- Unbroken Bonds of Battle is a book that honors the friendship among military veterans who have served in different branches and conflicts. It features 11 stories from veterans who share their experiences and insights on various topics related to their service and life after the military.
- If you want to learn more about these modern warriors and how they have overcome adversity with the help of their friends, read on to find out what they have to say.
Unbroken Bonds of Battle (2023) is a collection of stories from 11 US veterans. They tell us what drove them to military service, their experience of being on the front lines, and the profound lessons they’ve learned about life, loss, and friendship.
Introduction: Unvarnished tales from the front lines.
Table of Contents
Military service is considered by many to be the ultimate sacrifice. While none of us would ever be looking for an excuse to go to war, countless men and women have committed themselves to the Army, Navy, and Air Force for generations. Most are fortunate enough to make it home. Others aren’t quite so lucky.
By and large, the stories of their victories and defeats go by unheard – with the exception of the odd Hollywood film. And even those have varying degrees of accuracy.
This Blink provides one of the rare, unfiltered glimpses behind the curtain. We’ll explore five of the 11 memoirs the author, Johnny Joey Jones, shares in his book: Wesley Hunt, Nate Boyer, Lacy Gunnoe, Jacob Schick, and Jones himself. We’ll learn what drove each to military service, their honest experience of being on the front lines, and the profound lessons they’ve learned about life, loss, and friendship as a result. We’ll also get a first-hand insight into one of the less apparent challenges they all face: transitioning back into civilian life after injury or retirement.
Our triumphs and tragedies mightn’t look like the ones these individuals faced – and continue to face – but we all have our measure of joys and sorrows.
There’s something to be learned from everyone. The tales of these military veterans can offer us profound lessons in three things they encountered in pressure-cooker environments but are nonetheless common to us all: life, loss, and the bonds of friendship.
Captain (Ret.) Wesley Hunt
For Wesley Hunt’s family, the military services were seen as close to a meritocracy as Black people from the South could get. While the armed forces weren’t – and aren’t – exempt from racial issues entirely, one’s rise and fall was more attitude and ability than color or creed.
Hunt’s father was a lieutenant colonel in the Army and a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He also had very little time for complaints or excuses, instilling a sense of radical responsibility and “If not us, who?” in his three children. All joined the military.
While his older sister served in Baghdad’s Green Zone and his younger brother in the Arabian Gulf, Hunt flew Apache helicopters over Baghdad proper. Hunt’s team’s task was to support ground units under attack, and at that time – the mid-2000s – these requests were so frequent that US forces had two Apaches in the air 24/7.
Hunt recalls a particularly high-stakes mission that saw his four pilot team aerially engaged for seven hours. One of their tanks had struck an improvised explosive device – or IED – near a coalition outpost and the troops were stuck taking heavy fire. Hunt’s helicopter started taking fire too, and they had to refuel several times just to stay airborne, but he and his team returned without question each time, committed to saving as many of those American lives as they could. No complaints. No excuses.
Hunt no longer flies Apaches over war zones, yet still models the lessons his father and the military championed with the same unwavering discipline. Today, Hunt continues to serve his country – trading Iraq’s Camp Taji for US Congress.
Taking responsibility not only for one’s own life but also for the lives and well-being of others is a formidable endeavor. But in Hunt’s words, “If not me, then who does step up?”
We all play a role in making this world a better place, and the more of us who do step up – in ways large or small – the lighter the load is for us all.
Staff Sergeant Nate Boyer
Nate Boyer did what so many of us talk about doing but so few of us do.
In 2004, at just 23 years old, flew himself to Chad, Africa, to volunteer at a refugee camp for fleeing Sudanese. Initially, Boyer applied to several US nongovernmental organizations – or NGOs – but was rejected each time. Although these NGOs claimed they needed people, a college degree was deemed necessary. He didn’t have one. Undeterred, Boyer jumped on a plane, talked his way into a camp, and spent his days erecting tent shelters and distributing rations.
A particularly profound takeaway from Boyer’s time at the refugee camp was how unfairly fortunate he was. After all, he hadn’t “done” anything to earn the privilege of being born in the US – he just was. And as a result of this good fortune, the world had always felt at his feet.
Upon returning to the US, Boyer joined the Army. A year later, he’d earned his green beret. As part of the Army’s Special Forces, he completed multiple tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, and, unlike some of his closest peers, was one of the lucky few to ultimately return home physically unscathed.
At this point, Boyer was 29 and decided it was time to go to college. He enrolled at the University of Texas and joined their famous football program – despite having never played a proper game in his life. Impressively, Boyer ended up representing the team for the five years he was there and then signed with the Seattle Seahawks in the National Football League.
These days, Boyer works as an actor and producer of film and television. Sylvester Stallone produced his 2022 film MVP, which Boyer wrote to capture some of the challenges veterans face after retiring from the armed forces.
Boyer’s “Anything is possible” motto isn’t just a nice-sounding collection of words – it’s his creed. Yes, it’s true that he was dealt a strong hand being raised in the US, but many of us are just as blessed.
Perhaps Boyer is an extreme example of what’s possible, but how would your life change if you applied even a little of this approach? Who would you be? What would you do? This human life is fleeting. Make the most of it while you’re here.
Growing up in a trailer in southern West Virginia, Lacy Gunnoe wasn’t surrounded by material or financial wealth. Yet, he claims, he was never short on gifts from his family – unwavering support and a monster work ethic being the two he’s most grateful for.
Gunnoe’s parents divorced while he was in high school, and their separation hit him hard. On the outside, the teenager may have appeared confident, but inside, he felt lost and alone. In fact, Gunnoe doubts he’d have made it to college or the military if he hadn’t been able to co-opt the belief of his family and early mentors.
Gunnoe was still plagued with self-doubt when he stepped up to join the Air Force, but those around him continued to reflect his potential back at him until he was ready to see it himself.
Gunnoe ultimately rose to aircraft commander and served five deployments after 9/11. As important and meaningful as this work was, the West Virginian felt called to support and inspire those coming through the ranks as his family and superiors had done for him. So he took his wings from combat to the classroom and became an instructor pilot, for which he won several awards.
One of Gunnoe’s most treasured memories from this time was a full-circle moment of sorts. A foreign student – let’s call him Diego – was enrolled in his class but wasn’t on track to pass. Not only was he failing at the technical aspects of training but he was older than his peers and English wasn’t his first language. In other words, the odds were against him.
Nonetheless, Gunnoe committed to building a rapport with Diego – something he lacked with the other instructors. At one of their informal meetings, Gunnoe showed Diego his failing grade sheet and, no doubt against all protocol, changed each of his scores to “Excellent.” The trainee pilot was confused but buoyed. Gunnoe then told him to go out and earn those grades.
Not only did Diego do just that, he’s still flying today. A few years after graduation, he even sent Gunnoe a photo of himself with the president of his country, flying their equivalent of Air Force One.
Everyone has champions and detractors, and it’s easy to remember only the latter. But don’t forget to thank those who led you to soar, and never pass up an opportunity to help someone do the same. As Gunnoe says, “Instead of proving people wrong, the real power is proving those who believed in you right.”
Corporal (Ret.) Jacob Schick
If there’s one cliché Jacob Schick is happy to stand behind, it’s that behind every great man is a great woman.
Schick spent his early childhood in Louisiana before moving to Texas as a teenager. Growing up, the most influential figure in his life was his grandmother, the formidable matriarch MeMe – and her presence remains with him to this day.
MeMe’s husband fought in Japan during World War II and one of her sons in Vietnam. But they were of a generation who didn’t feel they could – or should – speak about their experiences of war, so it was through his grandmother that Schick heard their stories. MeMe’s storytelling had a profound impact on Schick as a child and would again play a pivotal role after his own stint in the military.
As a member of the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, in September 2004, Schick found himself in the Sunni Triangle, Iraq. He led a quick reaction team responsible for capturing several high-profile targets during their deployment.
One morning, Schick woke to a react call and immediately had a bad feeling about it. He got his team of Marines ready as per protocol, but took a few additional measures too, like preparing a bomb blanket in their vehicle.
Minutes into their journey from the command post, their Humvee struck a tank mine. As the driver, Schick was instantly propelled 30 feet into the air and came down on his head. Although he sustained several significant injuries – breaking many ribs, losing part of his left hand, and losing his right leg below the knee – Schick maintains he wouldn’t have changed a thing. He turned out to be the only one seriously wounded.
Upon returning to the US, Schick had to face 23 blood transfusions and 46 operations – and an overwhelming sense of frustration and guilt. He was grateful that the rest of his team had escaped relatively unharmed, but they were still on the battlefield, and he was bedridden. Schick needed to find another outlet for his desire to serve – and quickly – or risk becoming a statistic.
Taking inspiration from his MeMe all those years before, Schick started sharing his story. His grandfather’s and uncle’s generation might have felt unable to do so, but Schick saw he could help change that narrative.
Schick spoke openly about substance abuse, mental health issues, and suicidal ideation. He describes doing so as painful but saw the acute effect his honesty had on himself and others. In his words, “If talking about my experiences and exposing my vulnerabilities will help others, then that’s what I do.”
In a turn beyond his wildest dreams, Schick’s mission eventually caught the attention of Hollywood. First, James Gandolfini reached out for an HBO documentary, then Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, and then Clint Eastwood for one of his films. These encounters were neither expected nor sought out but enabled Schick to serve an even wider audience.
In 2012, a study reported that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. While we might not be one of this population, we all experience our own daily struggles and suffering.
It’s worth considering how these challenges could be communicated and safe spaces created for those around you to do the same. As Schick has discovered, doing so can be tremendously healing and, at times, even life-saving.
Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Johnny Joey Jones
Make a joke about Johnny Joey Jones’s two amputated legs and he’ll laugh with you. But dare to provoke him about the University of Georgia’s football team and you’re a goner.
Jones grew up poor in the southern state, a son to a house cleaner and brick mason. Their mobile home may have only had one power plug socket, but Jones’s most enduring childhood memory is of his honest and tight-knit family.
Jones’s dad modeled virtue and simple wisdom – most significantly regarding kinship. His own friendships were forged in the furnace of manual labor and a life of scraping by. Nevertheless, he was always ready to chip in to help and give the shirt off his back if needed.
Jones carried these lessons with him when he left home at 18 to join the military. Reflecting on that pivotal moment, Jones describes his younger self as “lost,” saying he only survived combat and learned to thrive after it thanks to the friends and mentors who looked out for him along the way.
As Jones is now a military analyst for FOX News, the story of his injury while deployed in Afghanistan in 2010 is relatively well-known. He and his team were on a mission in Safar Bazaar, clearing the town’s streets and buildings of the IEDs left behind by the Taliban. Over five days, his team located and safely neutralized more than 30 of the devastating devices. But on the sixth day, he wasn’t so lucky: he stepped on one and was blown 30 feet high. Jones suffered several critical injuries and ultimately lost both legs above the knee.
Although Jones knew he couldn’t continue serving his brothers and sisters in combat, after his recovery, he was determined to find another way to give back to his beloved military family. So he settled on being of service once they’d arrived back home. In addition to his own experience, he’d seen numerous peers struggle with the transition that came with injury or retirement and resolved to ease that struggle however he could.
Sometimes that means a short phone call or Facebook message. More often, it’s a cross-country in-person visit or invitation to a group hunting expedition. But the size of the gesture matters less than the fact these gestures are made frequently and sincerely.
Yes, forging and maintaining bonds is an investment, and showing up for others isn’t always easy. Forge ahead nonetheless. Few investments offer such far-reaching lifelong returns.
While we mightn’t ever don the uniform or be deployed to a conflict zone, the tales of military veterans are worth receiving and hearing.
Not only can their stories prompt us to more deeply consider life, loss, and friendship, but the ability for them to openly share their triumphs and tragedies can go a long way to improving their well-being and lives in the tricky transitions back home.
About the Author
Johnny Joey Jones
Politics, Biography, Memoir
Unbroken Bonds of Battle: A Book of Heroism, Patriotism, and Friendship by Johnny Joey Jones is a tribute to the power of friendship among military veterans. The book features 11 stories from veterans who served in different branches and conflicts, from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Through candid and authentic conversations, the author explores the motivations, challenges, and lessons of these warriors, who have supported and inspired him throughout his own journey of recovery from a life-changing injury. The book also includes a scrapbook of photos that capture the lives and personalities of these modern heroes.
The book is divided into three parts: The Call, The Cost, and The Comeback. In each part, the author interviews three or four veterans who share their experiences and insights on various topics, such as why they joined the military, how they coped with combat and loss, what they learned from their service, how they transitioned to civilian life, and how they found meaning and purpose after their military careers. The author also interweaves his own story of becoming a bomb technician in the Marine Corps, losing both his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan, and overcoming physical and mental challenges with the help of his fellow veterans.
The book is not only a collection of war stories, but also a celebration of friendship and patriotism. The author shows how the bonds forged in battle are unbreakable and transcend differences in background, rank, or politics. He also highlights how these bonds can help veterans heal from their wounds, both visible and invisible, and inspire them to serve others in their communities. The book is a testament to the courage, resilience, and generosity of spirit of those who have sacrificed for their country.
The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the lives and perspectives of veterans, or who wants to be inspired by their stories of heroism and friendship. The book is also a valuable resource for veterans themselves, as it offers insights and advice on how to cope with the challenges of transitioning to civilian life, finding new passions, and staying connected with their brothers and sisters in arms.