How to stand firm when everything around you blows up, with Brian Fleming
Brian Fleming couldn’t wait to take a shower. When one was promised to him upon arrival, he felt a surge of relief. It had been at least a few days since he’d had the opportunity and he missed the simple act that had become a luxury while he’d been deployed.
He thought it would feel great to clean the dirt out of his flesh. He thought it would calm some of the pain from the 2nd and 3rd-degree burns on his face, neck, and hands.
But it wasn’t that kind of shower. Instead, Brian was laid on a table, and someone sprayed some water. Three nurses awaited him. The head nurse looked at Brian and said, with a blend of no-nonsense and apology in his voice, “We’re going to do this as quickly as possible.”
He promised Brian it would be “as painless as possible.”
Brian Fleming had no idea what they were talking about until the nurses revealed razorblades.
In one horrifying instant, he realized his pain was far from over. It would be too dangerous to place Brian under anesthesia. His burns were so severe he would be needing several surgeries and multiple “showers” as treatment. Anesthesia carried risks, and it is unwise to put a patient under as many times as would be required in order to offer him relief for every treatment, so anesthesia was reserved for surgical procedures.
For 30 minutes, Brian endured “pure hell” as the nurses shaved scorched flesh and debris from his hands, face, and neck. “I didn’t die so I just had to endure the pain,” he says.
It’s evident that the pain is easily recalled as he speaks about the experience. Still, he is quick to add that in relation to others, he got off easy. Too many others endured similar burns over far more of their bodies than he did. He shakes his head as he thinks about the sheer strength it takes those survivors to go through even longer treatments and more encompassing pain than he did.
One survivor, in particular, stands out to him. Not from these wars but from one decades ago.
Vietnam veteran Dave Roever knows all about what Brian and others have gone through. Dave suffered horrific injuries when the phosphorous grenade he was poised to throw exploded in his hand. He was declared dead several times and was severely disfigured. His story of survival and resilience is incredible, and he continues to reach out as a beacon of hope and support to others today. When he visited the same hospital he spent months in years ago, Brian instantly connected with him.
“Brian,” he said, “I’ll help you do something with this injury if you’re open.”
It was Dave who put Brian Fleming on his first stage, where Brian stammered out a bashful sentence about being blown up and surviving. That unexpected moment it was opened Brian’s eyes to the purpose behind his own pain.
From that one stage in front of a small crowd, Brian has gone on to speak before thousands at a time. From the one stammering sentence, Brian now eloquently talks about the suicide bomber who tried to kill him and the others that day. He openly talks about being dragged from his vehicle by a courageous 19-year-old soldier, just like he himself had dragged another soldier just months before. He lovingly talks about his wife, who never left his side and made it clear she never will.
A smattering of disbelief still flicks through Brian’s voice when he says getting blown up was the best thing that happened to him. It is still contrary to his own mind that such pain and terror could be anything but horrible, but it’s this precise contradiction of beliefs that Brian points out as being a path to massive growth.
NICTRY is what his Texas license plate reads, as Brian’s own daily reminder that evil tried and failed to prevail that day. Even better, evil destroyed only itself, as the suicide bomber was the only fatality. Everyone else lived to tell the tale. His new mission is to teach people how to stand firm when everything around them is blowing up.
Brian Fleming has learned a lot from his own struggles and the mentorship of others.
From people like Dave, who have an intimate understanding of his precise pain and challenges, he’s been able to learn specific resilience skills and focus on faith to navigate that path. But, he notes, there are two common misperceptions about mentors that are important to be aware of: First is that anyone who has experienced similar challenges will be a suitable mentor to you.
Common experiences, he says, are not enough. Credibility is important but so is connection. Unless you personally connect with a mentor, that mentor is not right for you. Next is that it is only a person who has experienced the same pain points is able to mentor you through yours. He calls that misperception, “the biggest crock of crap you’ve ever heard.”
Brian has learned a lot from people who can’t relate to his specific pain. The different perspective they’ve offered has been invaluable to him, as has the unique insight he’s received from people like Dave.
The blend of perspectives allowed Brian to cozy up to a buffet of insight and knowledge, and create his own feast. He’s now dishing out heaping portions of help to individuals and companies to apply to their own pain points, in talks around the world and in his book, Redeployed .
It’s important to Brian to not only help people (especially veterans) navigate injuries and challenges, but to also help veterans through the process of transitioning back to civilian life. The loss of a purpose, the lingering effects of combat and in many cases, the aftermath of injuries can be overwhelming for our combat veterans. Assimilating into a culture that has no experience with this and learning how to apply their unique skillsets to civilian jobs is something that causes too many veterans to slip through the cracks back home. Brian hopes his book, written with Chad M. Robichaux, will serve as a compass to help guide his brothers and sisters to a new life.
Brian Fleming is living his own version of the American Dream, using the opportunities he literally bled for, and wants others to do the same.