May 10, 2022

The One Key To Stopping Suicide- Nate Prussian (Guardian Group)

Nate Prussian retired as a Colonel from the US Army after 26 years, primarily serving in special operations units. In his final assignment Nate commanded the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg North Carolina.

Nate was drawn to Guardian Group through a desire to make a difference at home now rather than abroad. Through his travels across the globe Nate saw time and again that women and children suffered terrible acts of aggression and violence, and it’s his belief that human trafficking has no place in this country nor any other.


Nate Prussian retired as a Colonel from the US Army after 26 years, primarily serving in special operations units.  In his final assignment Nate commanded the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg North Carolina. 

Nate was drawn to Guardian Group through a desire to make a difference at home now rather than abroad.  Through his travels across the globe Nate saw time and again that women and children suffered terrible acts of aggression and violence, and it’s his belief that human trafficking has no place in this country nor any other.

Transcript

Hi, everyone, and welcome to this week's episode of Enduring the Badge Podcast. I'm your host, Jerry Dean Lund. And I don't want you to miss an upcoming episode. And so please hit that subscribe button. And while your phones out, please do me a favor and give us a review on iTunes or Apple podcasts. It says, Hey, this podcast has a great message and we should send it out to more people. So please take that 30 seconds to a minute to do that review. And just maybe by doing that, it will push this up into someone's podcast feed that really needs this message. And for those of us still feeling a little stuck after listening to these episodes, I created a one on one coaching program called Fire and Fuel Coaching. It's a program that's going to help you live up to your greatest potential and do a lot of self discovery. You can check that out on Instagram. And please feel free to direct message me there with any of your questions. 

My very special guest today is Nate Prussian, from The Guardian group, Nate served almost 26 years as a Special Forces Colonel, we're gonna talk about mental health and how to get in front of maybe some of the problems we're having with mental health and suicide. We're also going to talk about one topic that we haven't ever really touched on here. And I'm gonna say that a little bit towards the end, it's a little bit something special. Now let's jump right into this episode with Nate. 
Guardian Group

How are you doing? 


I'm doing awesome. I'm doing awesome. So excited to have you on. We're going to talk about one kind of new topic that we really haven't talked about on this podcast before. But we're going to leave that towards the end, kind of like, you know, make the audience listen and a little bit. Sounds good. So tell the audience a little bit about yourself. Yeah, so


I retired from the Army about a year ago, I did 25 years and eight months, and retired as a Special Forces Colonel. My last assignment was commanded third Special Forces Group. And, you know, so I found myself sort of in the last year of my, my job, thinking about what I wanted to do you know, what, what do you want to do after your first career? And for me, that was something that I'd always wanted to do. So took some time to think about, okay, what's important to me? I'm retiring, to be home with my family more. So do I want to migrate away from the normal things that you see retired Army folks do? And we were heading to the west coast. So my wife and I initially settled in Oregon. And so I reached out to a nonprofit. And things just worked out, right. I sat down with the CEO a couple of times. And toward the third conversation, I told him, his name's Jeff, I said, Hey, I, you know, I just hope that you have a position for me, I don't really care what it is. But this is the organization I want to work in. And this is the work I want to do. And he took a chance on me, right? I mean, of the many things I've done in my life, nonprofit work wasn't one of them. And counter sex trafficking wasn't one of them. So I had a lot of learning to do. And he had a lot of grace in allowing me to do that. And it's, for me, it's been great, right, I get to do something that I think still is important to the country and to communities. I get to work with people that are similar backgrounds, a couple of folks who I've served with before in the army. So it's been really good. Yeah, so that was my first year. And then half halfway through that year, my wife and I decided, Oregon wasn't the best fit for us. And so we moved to Virginia. So that's where we are now. So I find myself working remotely, and still being very gracious about, you know, me alerting, and me not being in the office and that kind of thing. So yeah, it's been good. Yeah.

 
Thank you for your service. That's a that's a long stint in, in a special forces.


Yeah, no, it was really an honor. A lot of that was me being very lucky along the way, you know, things worked out. And I met a lot of great folks. And that's really what kept me doing it. Right. I think there's a there's a commonality across law enforcement, first responders and military that you really, you know, you're started for one reason, but you stay probably for the people that you're working with. Right, right, right. And there's very few places that you can go, where you get to serve with people that will do so much for you the day that they meet you and care so deeply about the community, that country, that kind of thing. So, you know, for me, it was an honor. It was something I wanted to do from the time I was a young child and my, my, my dad would have said at one point he did say to me, Hey, look, this isn't something you're related to enjoy. You're gonna be out in four years and 26 years later, I retired. So it was for me it was really good.


Yeah, I think there's I see a lot of people joining you know, the different forces that serve our country, but they don't tend to stay in as long as people used to. Yeah, Uh,


Ya know, I, there's, it's an interesting cycle, right when, I guess prior to 911, you saw people come in for the normal reasons and leave after 911, you saw probably more people stay for the first five, six years, higher retention rates, that sort of thing. And then as a sort of ground along further, you saw a lot of those people start to decide, okay, this is this is detrimental to my family, it's detrimental to me personally, whatever, I want to move on to something else. And a lot of those folks still migrated to other law enforcement, Intel careers, that kind of thing. Right. But they they left the military. And, you know, just coming out of 20 years of doing that, I think the service is going to see the same sort of cycle repeat itself, where, you know, now folks are not staying for the war that they're in, they need. They may say, you know, I, I want to serve, but I also want to do other things. That's that's a common factor now as well. But, you know, at the same time, I mean, it, it has also, there's a lot of discussion about being it being a family business, and I think you see that a great deal across, you know, the Uniformed Services, law enforcement, first responders, right, you see a lot of repeat families through the same sort of things, which is good and bad. You know, there's, there's certainly some work to it. But at the same time, we'd like to broaden the spectrum out a little bit more as well. Sure. Yeah.
N.Y.C. Marks 9/11 at a Time of Harrowing Loss - The New York Times

Sure. I mean, so throughout your career, and I'm sure you've traveled all over the world, I would imagine. And how did how did you handle that? And how did your family handle those transitions? Yeah,

 
I think of the many things that I would like to have done better. Helping my family with that, helping them understand what that was really going to be about how that was going to impact them being there for them instead of being gone. That's something I I would have liked to do better, right. And I've, I've listened to some podcasts recently, a couple on your show. And I wish I would have had that same information back when I was much younger, Brian would have helped me be probably a better husband. in understanding the impacts of moving every three years and, you know, my wife having to reapply for jobs, right? It sounds like a small thing. To a guy like me who's only ever applied for one job in his lifetime, right? It doesn't sound like that. But, but it's a very real thing. Right? And it's very frustrating. So I think I did a below average job in in how I handled that it was really all about, you know, how how's my career progressing? What do I need to do, you know, keep the family apprised of that. But in the second half of my career, I found myself talking a lot more to people about not making the same mistakes I had made. Right. So I'd like to think I was pretty open about it. But at the same time, I'd rather have that first 10 years to do it. Right. Again, you know, and it's just one of those things. I'm glad to see that, that folks who have walked that ground are now talking about it more. But it is it is interesting to look back and say, you know, I could have done a lot of those things better if I just thought a little bit more about them.


Right. Right. I think there's probably not too many first responders in the world that probably like, Yeah, I did that. Right. Like, I handle that I handle that situation, right? I think we do some in our in our minds at times, but we really fully don't grasp what's happening at home and how the other parts of our family are really taking that.


Ya know, it's it's, you see the pressure when it sort of boils over, but you know, what I what I tell a lot of folks is hey, you know, you've got to pay attention to it, be talking about it, understand where your family is on these things. And be willing to have that conversation before it really becomes an issue because once it becomes an issue, kind of everything else grinds to a halt. You're not as good at home, you're not as as good at work. You know, we have tried little sayings like you know, happy wife happy life. It's very true, though. When I'm when I've done my best at work, it's because I'm happy to stay at home. Right and yeah, and being able to talk openly with people about that, hey, here's here's some ways to discuss that. Here's some resources you can use. It's been it's been good, right? But I keep going back to I wish I'd had that first 10 years to do it. Right. Yes. Time. So, yeah.

 

How First Responders and Other Parents Can Protect Their Children from  Trauma - Penn Medicine


Yeah, I'm still learning, I'm still learning how to do it right. Like, it's still like, it's still still a process every day you come home, the calls, you've had the things have transpired at work or whatever are different than the Find Me family dynamics when you come home, you're not sure what to expect? And so it's really hard entering that space. And you know, and having to go smooth, I think.


Yeah, I think so. And you know, one of the recurring themes that I get from folks in the military is when you deploy to come home, and whether you're the mother or the father, at that point, it doesn't really matter. You don't want to be the person that's jumping back in and disciplining the kids and changing the routines, and but at the same time, your spouse who's been there the whole time needs some support. How do you find the right ground that you're both going to stand on? And it's certainly difficult. But at the same time, you know, having that conversation now is easier than having had that conversation years ago. So


yeah, yeah, definitely have to have that conversation. Beforehand, or otherwise, the heat of the moment, it's too late. Motions are too high, and you're reacting, instead of, you know, thinking about what you should really be doing. Yeah, no, that's right. And in the military, you have basically first responders, a lot of first responders have two families, right, you have the family that you're deploying throughout the world with and then and then you have the family at home. And those shirts come with a lot of challenges.


Yeah, they really do. And it's great. And it's tough all the same time, right, you've got these people that you care deeply about, you would do anything for, you're going to invest time in them, you're going to be there when they need yeah, that's, that's all at a detriment to the family that's at home, right. And so it's good, I wouldn't have it any other way. Right? Those those kinds of organizations exist on people that are willing to do exactly that. But at the same time, you know, understanding how to pay attention to them, how to how to help them through tough times, how to take some of the burden off of them, when you know, when they are feeling these difficulties, that that you're all going to feel and being able to talk about it and get them to the right place, it matters. It's also interesting that you will wind up spending a lot more time with them, because you're spending so much more time at work or deploying with them. And so there there can be a tendency to, to have a save a little bit more of a deep relationship and be willing to talk about things that you may not be willing to talk about home. And then you've got to, you've got to bridge that gap as well. Right? It's tough to it's tough to have a family that does not understand why the relationship and the dynamics are the way they are. So yeah, but it's certainly rewarding. worthwhile. Right? That's those are the kinds of things you'd migrate to this work for.

  
Yeah, yeah, having that family bond with your, your, the people that you're serving your community are serving your country with, develops in a different way than your family develops at home the different types of stressors and are completely different. Yep.


Yep, they really are. And there's shared experiences at work that you will never have at home, right? I mean, especially on the battlefield, you will, you will have this deep connection with somebody because you've, you've been through these things with them. And that's not something that's easily explained to your wife, you know, why will you go help that guy with whatever He asked you to help them with? This, because, you know, we've had this near death experience together, I Oh, that's just we're just bonded that way. And it's, it's not easily explained, right. And again, it can get in the way, but at the same time, you know, being able to talk about those things at home, that that helps that situation. So,


Yeah, that first responder bond is created through those, those those things that you see in encounter together. I'm sure throughout your your career, you've probably have lost some people that are very close to you and the service.


Yeah, last is is you know, it's difficult, right? In my last job, I was working with a guy and we were about to, to go meet a widow just lost her husband in Afghanistan. And you know, these things are always tough, right? And family dynamics are what they are and you're trying to discuss without getting ahead of the facts of investigations and all those sorts of things, and she has this desire to know what happened, and you've got to care for her and her family, right? She's just been given the worst news that most people will ever get. And then something that should never be easy, right? And that's what this guy, his name was Chris, he said to me, right, we're getting ready to go to go meter. And he says, hey, if this ever gets easy, I don't want to do it anymore. Right, because you lose something, if, if this is now an easy thing, it's just a transactional experience, and you're taking for granted, you know, the, the lives that are changed forever, you know, because of these losses. So yeah, it's, it's, it is tough. And again, you've you've got to pay attention to your, you know, your peers, all the folks around you, anybody that's been impacted by that, because, you know, largely, they will process it, and grieve and move on. And still care for that family and everything. But at the same time, there's always there's always the potential that, you know, they they start to, sort of migrate away from the community, or they start to drink more heavily. And, and you have to really have to watch that. Right? Yeah. And that comes back to Okay, when you see that, you've got to be willing to step in and say, Hey, we've, you know, we are concerned about you, is there anything we can do? How are you doing? Make them understand, hey, it's okay to mourn the loss of a friend like this. And this shouldn't be a career changing or altering experience, we want you to get the help you need so that you can get back on track with, with what you care to do, you know. But yeah, you see, you know, enough, you see repetitively enough and in over time, if you're not careful, you start to get a little cold to it. Right? That's, that's not something you want. So but all that to say, you know, it, it is, it is one of those things where, you know, even at the end of my career, I felt like am, I've done all the have done all the jobs and have all the experience in order to handle these things. And when that phone rang in the middle of the night, the first time we lost a guy, it was okay, now? Am I really prepared for this? How am I going to take care of this family? And and for how long? Can we sustain, you know, taking care of this boundary that the team is still deployed? That's, that's the closest group of people that she has, how do we how do we take care of her and her kids, until they're home, you know, that kind of stuff, right? And a lot of time, and effort has to go into that, and, and then the end do they can, they can embrace your right back, they can push you away. And really the only move you have, I think is as the organization is to embrace them. Right? There's, there's only one thing you can do for that family, no matter how they act. Because again, it's the it's the worst day of their lives. And maybe they'll see things differently, and maybe not. But yeah, in the end you all you can do is put your arms around him and hold him tight and try to do the best you can to care for him, you know, and that that should go on for the rest of their time on this earth. Right. There's there's not a date where you're not one of our families anymore, you know? So that takes commitment.


Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I'm sure you know, you see losses through, you know, the battlefield and things like that. But you also probably see losses, you know, through other things like suicide. And


Yeah, and those suicides in particular, were the, for me the hardest to, not to, to handle, that's probably not the right word, but to explain to the organization what happened and to explain to the family what happened and understand what we could have done better. And I had, in my last two years, as the commander of third group, I had five suicides. So that's a pretty high number. That's a very high number. And every time it was a surprise to the family, it was a surprise to their co workers, it was a surprise to the entire chain of command, right? And if you're not careful, you can get jaded about, okay, if I, if there's all these resources we have and all these things I can do and yet it doesn't seem to be changing the outcome and what's the point that's, that's the wrong way to approach it right? When I I began to believe and what I believe today is, there's a certain point at which there's not much that you can do if you're too far away from that person. But the people that immediately surround them, right family, friends, immediate co workers, they're the ones that are going to see the changes in their behavior, they're going to be the ones that can step in and say, hey, you know, we are concerned do need help, that kind of thing. And then it's just a matter of getting them to understand that and empowering them to do it. Right, which people are uncomfortable with, because if you're too invasive in somebody's life, you get pushed away, right? Yeah. And so there's, again, it's one of those difficult, where do you find the line? How much is too much how much caring can be taken as being overly invasive, and that kind of thing. But at the same time, there's, there's no other way to, to get in front of it. And one of the worst days I had in command was, we had a soldier who is on social media talking about hurting himself. So we spent the day working with local law enforcement to find him. And at the end of the day, after a series of car crashes, and, and all kinds of other stuff in a police chase and having to have him Eve act, you know, lifeflight, into the hospital, we felt okay, we've, you know, he's going to have some serious problems, medical issues, mental health issues, he's gonna get prosecuted for what he's done. Because he smashed up a couple of police cars during the chase. Right. But he's alive. And that's the best we can do. And that's, that's great, right? We, we have done all we can do to keep this guy alive. The next morning, I was notified that a completely different soldier had killed himself. And again, you know, very, very difficult for me to, to be able to reconcile, okay, we did all of this to save this one guy, and no one ever saw this one coming. Yeah. And they really hadn't. And that was what convinced me that, hey, the only the only way you can get in front of this is by those people that are directly involved with them day in and day out, you know? And so how do you then talk to people about stepping in? And how do you empower them? How do you make sure that they feel like they can do that? And there's not any blowback? If they do that, you know, for them personally. So? Yeah, but suicide very, very difficult. Right. And you see plenty of discussion about it now, and plenty of organizations that have stood to directly address it. And I think if you if you took a poll across the board, you you'd still be wondering, are we doing enough? Is there enough we can do to reverse this? Or are some of the lasting effects of you know, serving 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places? Is that just an insurmountable thing? It's a great, It's a great question that's answerable? I don't care to know the answer. I'm going to stay with the people directly associated with them can step in, you know? Yeah. And try to keep it positive. Yeah. But yeah, those those were the ones that always real, I personally really struggled with, like, what do we miss? Why did this happen? Right? Why would they feel that death was better than life? You know? And then how do you explain that to the family? Especially when they weren't there? There? There were instances certainly where, you know, the, the soldier was living with his family, or in one case, took his own life in front of his family. So you know, they're there then wondering the same thing, like, you know, what, what could I have done differently, but there was really no good explanation. In the end, you know, just whatever reason your son or daughter is, you know, the way they are, and if chosen to do this, you know, and now what do we do in the future to try to stop it? So? Yeah, and I don't think that's any easier in the law enforcement community first responder, community minutes, right. You know, it's definitely a problem across the board. So,

 

Petition · First Responder Suicide Prevention · Change.org


Yeah, the suicide rate is, is very high in all the first responder, worlds, it's more so than the line of duty deaths, or the suicide deaths or paths or passing them. I think a hard thing with suicide is trying to understand, and we can't understand what that person was going through. So we can't really explain it, you know, to family members and things and you wonder, like you said, Are you wonder why they get to that to that point. And I think just as human beings we want to understand so much and we just don't have the answers to it. You



Many of those things, and it just takes a toll on the families of the people involved just like wanting to know and how, how can they accept this and move on with their lives too?


Yeah, and some of the some of the things I began to learn were, there was a study that said, Hey, you're, you're 30% more likely to take your own life, if you've known someone last year, who has, and in one of the cases, even the person's wife didn't know that he had had two friends committed suicide in the previous here, not one. And as we were going through the, you know, the gathering of all the facts, that's what came up was, you know, he's had two close friends take their lives. And he was two months from retirement, and they had accepted a job. And it just didn't make any sense. Right. Yeah. And when we, when we started piecing it all together, there was, you know, he had been heavily influenced by both of those people. So, yeah, but even then, you know, the, the closest people in the world to him didn't know that. Right? So yeah, it's, it's tough. Yeah.


How do we get out in front of something like this? And in that's happening in this world, just, it seems to be more and more often? No, like, we're talking to, you know, the, the family and some education. But is there a way to get out in front of this? The UC or ideas?


Yeah, I mean, I think my, my best ideas are, you've got to be willing to talk about it at all levels, right. And it's an uncomfortable conversation to have, but you have to be willing to discuss it. And you have to be willing to discuss the use of, you know, the, the various tools that are out there. So, you know, when we talk about as leaders, okay, how are you? How are you advocating for your soldiers, or your police officers to use counselling. And the best advocacy I ever saw for was a three star that I worked for the, you know, he was having this discussion with a bunch of his leaders, and he said, Hey, I want you guys to tell us this. You can go there anytime, except for this time on this day, because that's when I'm there. And that was pretty powerful. Right? Okay. It hasn't affected his career. And he's, he's willing to go talk to somebody about this. You know, and there's there's all kinds of means to do it. There's counseling, there's psychologists, there's going to see for the army, do you have a battalion chaplain, or, you know, brigade chaplain, for me, the toughest days that I had always seemed to be when the chaplain was stopping by and it was not coincidental, right. He, he knew, because it was our second time serving together to go, I'm gonna need to go in that guy's office and just see how he's doing today. Because today has been a pretty bad day, you know? Yeah. And so, you know, people people checking in on regardless of, you know, sort of position or rank or authority, everybody that's there. That's pretty important. And, you know, if, if he hadn't done it, nobody would have right, nobody would nobody else is stopping by my office to see if I was okay. But, but he did. And it, it mattered, you know. And so when I was able to stand up in front of audiences and talk about, hey, look, you know, here's, here's what's going on in the organization, right. Now, here's some things you've probably not heard. Here's what's been useful for me. And here's the resources out there, you know, that, that helps. It doesn't solve the problem. And I don't know, I don't know if there's a solving of the problem, or if it's just going to take a lot of years of getting past. You know, I don't know, some of the events of the last 20 years. The advent of social media, which, you know, just seems to really bring a lot more volume to these things. No, no, but but I think the, the reality is, hey, the people that actually see you and talk to you every day have to be willing to say, pretty simply, Hey, are you okay? Do you need help? Is there anything I can do for you? Because we've all seen it where we've all seen the person that's struggling not doing well has a problem. Yeah. But it's, a lot of folks will tell you, it's pretty rare when somebody's pulled him aside and said, Hey, is there something I can do to help you. So


I think that's that's hard. As a as a leader or trying to reach out to a coworker or friend is like, asking if they're okay. And then you're like, you know, and then what is that going to lead into? I think not. So Much in the fact that they would say I'm not okay. Because I think then we'd like you said there's resources and stuff like that. But when they say they're, you know, yeah, I'm fine. There's nothing wrong with me. And now there's maybe somewhere off the night. There's kind of this rift between you. And I think that's where the, the, the gap happens. Yeah. Is it worth the risk? I think it should be.

 

Suicide Prevention Resources for First Responders


Yeah, it should be. And you would hope that they don't react so negatively to it that, you know, that that bond is sort of compromised, right. But at the same time, how do you know? And it's tough. I mean, it's not, it's not an easy thing to ask somebody is such a, such a simple but such a deeply emotional question. Right? Because, because the same people that migrate to those jobs are not the same people that are just willing to open up, spill their guts, right, doesn't happen. So yeah,


Yeah, I think it's trying to find the right words and the right time to maybe ask those questions sometimes. For me, it's sometimes a strike trying to find that right, the right words the right time, you know, and sometimes that time is never going to come, you're just gonna have to just kind of throw it out there. And, you know, and, and run with it. You know, I think we've all had like, Well, I gotta make a call to so and so. And like, I'm gonna plan, you know, maybe what we're going to talk about, and then you just never get that time to execute that that phone call?


Yeah. Yeah. And you do your best to ease into it and talk about some other things on the on the margins of it, and you know, getting comfortable. And then at some point, you got to ask the, you know, the, the uncomfortable question. Yeah. And it can be tough.


Yeah. How, like, how did you keep your, with being in that career for so long? Do you have any, like, some go twos that kind of keep your, your being positive? Are your mental mindset in a in the right direction?

  
Yeah, I mean, I think, understanding that I had to be willing to step away, right, we, you oftentimes turn around, and it's been a couple of years, since you just took 710 14 days and took a vacation, right. And that can be a huge reset for you. But we all convince ourselves like, Hey, I'm too busy. And time is too precious, and my work and this and that. And the next thing, you know, you're further down the path, you know, that rocky road of being the disagreeable person that you don't want to be right, and your family is unhappy, and your co workers are unhappy. And so there's, there's, I think there's certainly a lot of merit to, you just got to know when to step away, right. And if you if you are part of a good organization, if you lead a good organization, they're gonna be just fine for the period of time, you step away, so it's okay. But you've got to convince yourself of that. You've got to be willing to talk to people when times are tough. And for me, like I said it was that the chaplain, right? Not because I saw him up, because I'm telling you all the reasons why I'm terrible at this stuff. I'm not the guy that seeks the help. But you've got to do want to use those resources. And I think the more of those resources are available, the more they have to be talked about in order to get people to use them. And then there's some other things that you have to take into consideration. So you know, where I worked. My deputy commander came in when he says, hey, look, you know, the, the stakes are in the same building that you're in, which means that nobody wants to come in this building and go down to that end of the hallway. Because, yeah, right, very real concern. So we move them to another building away from anywhere that, you know, there might be sort of the influence of the chain of command. And then we put them in civilian clothes. So we say, we don't want people to go in there and feel like they're talking to people in certain rank. So you're coming to work in civilian clothes every day. It's fine, right? It's not that big a deal. And between those two things, the use went through the roof, which was great, right? Yeah. So now they they feel like they have the ability to do it. It's more open, they can schedule it. And they're not walking in the same building with, you know, the commander. So that took a little bit of thinking, and it wasn't my thinking, right? It was it was guys around me who said, Hey, this guy feels like this is important. Then we've got to find a way to actually make it usable. What are the what are the ways we're going to do that? And some of that's, you know, pretty simple, but same time it's for the army, it's not real conventional to take your people and get them out of uniform, right? It's just the way it is. For me, the other thing is, you know, when when things are getting difficult, am I eating right? Am I getting the right sleep, like all that sort of personal health care readiness, hygiene? Because it's easy to come home and say, I'm going to pull myself a bourbon and sit on the couch. That does nobody any good, right? It's Yeah, sort of gratifying moment. But the next morning, you know, that's not a great thing. And it's not a great way to deal with anything. So being willing to say, Okay, let me when you really look how I'm doing this, right, am I am I just cranky because I haven't gotten enough sleep lately. And so I'm dealing with this and poorly. You know, working out, like getting getting in and staying in a good fitness routine, which sounds simple. But if you travel a lot, that's more difficult to do, right? So being having the discipline to say, Okay, well, I'm going to eat right tonight, while I'm on the road, and I'm gonna get up and I'm going to use the hotel gym. And those things, for me always really mattered, so that I would stay sort of, within a particular band, right, I might be at the lower end of my band. And when I'm home, I'm maybe at the higher end. But at least I'm not saying all the way down to the bottom, because I'm so far out of a routine that, you know, my fitness levels lower and not getting the sleep and my alcohol use is up and all that kind of stuff, right? And I think that's another one. So you know, drinking alcohol. One of the guys that I worked with a few years back started keeping account for 30 days, he kept account.

And he just carried around this three by five card. And he was mark every time any any actually measured his drinks, right, which is unusual, unusual by any measure, right? So he's, he's measuring his drinks. And at the end of the month, he gets up in front of all of us. And he says, hey, look, you know, we talked about this, but I'm just actually going to discuss, and he gave the number of drinks he'd had in that month. And it was a lot more than he would have thought or anything else would fall, right. And he's like, Hey, we need to start paying attention to this. It's one thing to talk about it and you get asked, you know, what's your alcohol use when you go see the doctor once a year, and you say, five drinks and blah, blah, blah. But he was he was incredibly honest about, Hey, I just counted, and here's the number, right. And I'm gonna do better. So paying attention to it. And again, just, you know, being willing to talk about those sorts of uncomfortable things. Good for everybody. For me, personally, I think the point at which I started to really pay attention to a lot of this stuff was the point at which my wife said, and we're not doing well, right? Like, if we're gonna keep doing this, then maybe we don't stay married. That's how unwell we're doing. And that's when I started paying attention. Because for me, it had been very simply, it's all about the deployments and things must be fine at home, right? Because I have this great wife. Yeah. And then one day, she said, Hey, things are not great at home, and you're gonna need to start paying attention to that, or, or we're done. Okay, you know, time to start paying attention, time to go to counseling. Going to marriage counseling was the most uncomfortable thing I've ever done in my life. But I'd rather go get into a gunfight in Baghdad than right. And that was really how I felt. Yeah, I totally believe you terrified of it, and frustrated by it. And in one of my co workers said, he says, Hey, do you know a lot about small engine repair? I said, No. He says, So where do you take your lawnmower when it needs to be serviced? Small Engine Repair, and he says, Do you know a lot about marital counseling? Now, that's a good point. Now I understand, right? If you're into it, he's like, it's fine. You're gonna get a lot out of this. I've done it. He's definitely okay. And that helped, right? And then the counseling helped us be able to talk about it. And, you know, then we were in a place where we could actually work through the problems and the differences and we're still happily married today. That's awesome. Yeah, it was great. Again, I go back to I wish I had to pay attention to these things in the first 10 years of my marriage because was

 

4 Signs Your Marriage Is Healthy - First Things First



As you know, I probably would have done much better. So yeah,


There's a couple of points he made. And a couple of cool ones. I like that, you know, someone is like, is willing to maybe totally step out of the comfort zone of probably most all first responders, you know, groups and be like, I'm measuring my dreams, I'm counting them and then get up to say, Hey, this is what was happening. I think that's pretty awesome. When people are willing to think of something like that and step out and do that. And then it's kind of a, you know, there's somebody that's probably listening is like, Oh, I could, I could use that I could do that. Or maybe I need to use this in, in my, in my friend group. I think another important thing was we're talking about social media, and how I think it can, it influences us, right, the more it's always we know, by some of the documentaries and some of the studies and stuff like that, what social media will feed you, when people are feeling down and depressed and suicidal and hopeless, you know, not filling, fan hopelessness, and stuff is that that is when they tried to numb their mind with social media, and it is feeding them more and more of that tough rap. And it's just what you surround yourself with and put your yourself you know, like the music, listen to I guess, and the things you're looking at social media and the TV you're watching all has a huge influence on you.


Yeah, you know, and I think the last two years of not being able to see everybody as easily or not at all, not being able to see family that had to be deeply impactful to most everybody. Right. And so when you're now when you're struggling, and you can't go see someone face to face, then you dive into your whatever your social media platform of the day is. Can't be terribly helpful. Right. Not not a great coping mechanism, not going to feed you the things that you need. Yeah, it and they see the same thing, the same thing with with trafficking over the last couple of years. So that's that's also been the case, right? People are more isolated. And next thing you know, they're they're easy or easier to prey upon. So

  
Yeah, that's a good segue into your, your new your new job, the making a difference in a in a completely different way. Yeah. Let's talk about the Guardian group.


Yeah, so Guardian groups, small nonprofit in Bend, Oregon, we work nationally. So you know, when I say small, I mean for full timers, one part timer. And it's an interesting concept, right? So a lot of folks think about human trafficking questions I get all the time, you know, are these girls being held in cages and chains now? Largely, they're not? Well, how do they get recruited? Is it you know, vans pulling up on the side of the road? And girls getting thrown in? And? No, right. I mean, you know, as a first responder when a girl is kidnapped somewhere, largely the world stops, and everybody starts looking for the person, right? Yeah, yeah. And so things that I was unprepared for with this were most victims of trafficking, if they're still school age, are still going to school. And they're being trafficked nights and weekends. They're not missing persons. Largely, that does happen. But it's, it's pretty rare. And so, you know, if you, if you look at human trafficking in the US, there's a lot of different ways that this happens, right? There's girls being trafficked out of strip clubs and girls being brought from overseas into massage parlors, and, and there's girls and boys being sold online for sex, both on the open internet and on the dark web. And so what we do, we have two programs, one is focused on assisting law enforcement. So we have a couple of analysts who look for the Trafficking Victims online. And there's websites that actually advertise them for dates, right? So they're easy enough to find online. Now you've got to determine who that person is, where he or she is, then we build a lead and we send that to law enforcement. And I think you'll you'll probably appreciate this. There's so much that first responders are responsible for that when you say you have to do all your own analysis and then build your own case and then get the paperwork you know, and then go do the operation and then take it to prosecution like how much you've really asking of one person or two people or five P again, so that, you know, that need that we are meeting as the analytical support to law enforcement, if you will. And that's been, that's been pretty successful. I mean, last year that was 161. leads that were that were generated. Yeah, so for for a small organization, that's, that's a pretty healthy capability. And then we do training and education, as well. So that's, you know, law enforcement, first responders, healthcare workers, hotel staff, you know, will actually provide the training that some states require or or that their companies looking for. And that's very specific, right? What are the what are the things that you're going to see? If you have our girl check in, and then she goes down to the, you know, she wants her room down at the end of the hallway? Is that near and exit? Are they propping that door open? Is that how, you know, the buyers are coming in and out? That kind of thing? Right? What are you What are you looking for? And how do you know? And then if you think he's seeing trafficking, what do you do about it? Right, don't don't step in and do the, you know, the model of taken where you're doing all this yourself, call your manager, having manager, you know, call law enforcement. So it's, it's very interesting to me to see, you know, the sort of the pressures on law enforcement during the same period of time with COVID, and not being able to make arrests, and at the same time, trafficking online is going up and kind of the misunderstanding across the US about how that's occurring. That there's, you know, a belief that a you've got to be from the poor family, not the case, right? This, this affects all communities universally. And then, you know, what do you do to get the girl or the boy out of the situation? And what's the care that's associated after and, you know, when you talk to municipalities, again, they're pretty reliant on nonprofits that that do these sorts of things, right, there's not a great network, in any state that's been constructed based on state and local governments wanting to fund, you know, houses for survivors and retraining and education and that kind of stuff.

You know, so it's, for me, it is rewarding work. I think it matters to the country, you know. Yeah. And and I think, you know, as there's more of a conversation going on about it, you're certainly seeing government's take, you know, more responsibility and put more resources towards it. I'm here in Virginia, and, you know, the governor came in and the first executive order resigned was exactly this, he stood up a task force. Right. So that's, that's the kind of action you want to see. The State of Texas requiring training for hoteliers. And there's very few states in the US that require hotel staff to be trained to see the signs of trafficking. Sorry, it's, it's good to see a state like Texas that steps in and says, Hey, we're going to require training for the staff every year. So that, you know, those those things matter. You're not going to solve it overnight. And that's also a question, right? I mean, people ask, okay, do you think you can solve this? So you're asking, Can you solve human nature? Right? Yeah, yeah, unfortunately. And the answer, I think, is, there's not one organization that can solve this, this comes back to, you know, communities, taking some responsibility, organizations helping, and then governments really, you know, sort of providing the resources and the coordination. And together, you can, you can probably put enough pressure on it that you will stop seeing drug traffickers migrate to being human traffickers. Right, because there's, there's really very little pressure on them and going to jail for trafficking the person they know exactly what's going to happen to them if they get caught trafficking drugs. Right. So the consequences are so dissimilar that there there's this migration over human trafficking. So can you solve it? Yeah, I think communities can solve it. This is really one of those communities solve it at their level. And everybody's got to be willing to step in and help and and and unfortunately ask questions like, Are you okay? Right when you when you talk to them Emergency Room workers and they say, Yeah, you know, after I got the training, I started seeing this pretty repetitively. But before I got the training, I didn't understand why this person was here. And there's nobody waiting for her. And she doesn't want to answer questions, and you know, all these sorts of things. Right. So, yeah, so it's, it's interesting, I think it's good work that matters. But it's going to come down to communities really taking responsibility for a lot of this.

 

UNODC - Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling


Yeah, yeah, no, I think it's, it's, I have a brother in law, who's heavily involved in an organization doing doing the same type of work and stuff that you're doing. And it's, it is, it's, I think it's probably one of the most uneducated things, you know, fires, first responders, education goes there, you know, fires, at least on this side of things of police probably are way better firefighters and EMTs. And people like that, and probably your emergency room, nurses and doctors is probably such little education that happens in that that could really actually make it make a difference. And I think one thing you have in a job like you have there be like, there's so much work to be done. Like to not feel like you're overwhelmed, like, you know, am I going to be able to solve this problem? And I think, you know, clearly people like you and The Guardian group are, are going after that, and making and making a difference on all levels. Right, with the education and and then throwing up the leads for law enforcement. I think that's, can you have enough of these groups doing that?


Yeah, it's it's definitely a problem of scale. Right? Yeah. And I think we, we believe that we have a program coming up that might be able to scale. So it's gonna be reliant on volunteers, which again, you know, that comes back to people being in communities looking in their communities for these things. But it is, you know, when he talked about the numbers, 150,000 advertisements on average, every day in the US selling girls and boys on the internet 150,000. Right. So I'm blown. It's mind blowing. And when you you know, just coming from from Oregon, so I know that area a little bit better. There was one officer in the whole state whose full time job was human trafficking. Everybody else. It's an additional duty. It's something you do. But when he started to really examine, okay, what are the priorities of the police department and the municipality and that kind of thing? You're not talking about being able to go after the volume, right? Yeah. And when you get into bigger cities, and I was I was in Dallas a few weeks ago, and I was talking to somebody about this, and I had the analysts take a look to see what you know what the numbers look like in Dallas. So in Dallas on a Wednesday night, just on one hosting site, we stopped counting at 500. advertisements, right? How do you go after 500? Advertisements mean, what does that really mean? Right? How many people is that that are being trafficked? How many police officers? Can you put against that? How many you have on duty? I mean, those are the kinds of things we were really struggling with? So Is it doable? I think what's, what you really have to start with is, can you put enough pressure on the traffickers to not want to do this? And that's if you can do that you, you probably start to see a difference in the numbers of trafficking victims and advertisements and that kind of stuff. So it's a long term approach. Yeah. Yeah. But yeah, there's, there's really a big question there. Okay, do we do we have the capacity to do this? And what does this really look like? What solving this mean? Well, I think you know, solving it means communities understand the problem and you know, teachers who see a student whose grades have gone from A's to DS. Don't just think that a that's a problem at home and I'm not going to, you know, how do you address that? Right? How does the hotelier addressed a girl that walks in and she's got everything in a plastic bag from the grocery store and, you know, that kind of thing. What do you do? And again, it comes back to if you can get everybody in that system to be aware. You start to have the impact you need. Yeah. but it's a huge problem.


Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it's mind boggling to me the just the sheer amount of how large scale the problem is, and how little resources that can actually be deployed to solve the problem. And sad that sad is just like you say, it's like police departments are already low on staffing, and then handling the calls that are coming in, let alone trying to be, I want to kind of save proactively trying to find these people in Stockholm.


Yeah, and I, you know, we've seen some police departments that have very good approaches where, you know, they, they will tell us, hey, we're going to schedule every month, we're going to do a series of operations, we'll have a cycle, so we know when to provide them that support. That is effective, at least sending the signal to traffickers that this isn't a place you want to be trafficking. And so, you know, now you might move that activity a little bit. But you're also denying them buyers? You know, some some places have they call them John schools, which is a terrible term, but just like, you know, other educational activities for first time offenders, right? Someone gets arrested for soliciting prostitution. And in some places, they can actually go to a John school. The verdict is it's probably more effective than less effective, but you know, getting good data and real numbers and understanding. Okay, well, have you just not re arrested that person? Because now they're, they know what not to do? You know, it's hard to know. Yeah, yeah. But, but,

But it's an approach. Yeah, it's a better approach than just arresting the prostitutes, which used to be the case, right. I mean, you know, I used to be a the the girls getting arrested, the buyers walking, then we weren't even talking about traffickers. And you still see a little bit of of that discussion with, with police officers, right? Why is this different than prostitution? Well, there, they can be the same activity. Right? And they can and they can be very different. So understanding, you know, what caused her to be doing this? Why doesn't she leave? Right? All those kinds of things? That's, there's a huge understanding aspect to this, which takes education and time. So


Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's, it's a quite a lot to ask of, for full time people and a part timer to make this impact. How can people learn more about the Guardian group?


Yeah, so we do have a website. There's the programs around there, there's some training content and some educational content that's on there. So if you want to understand more about, you can sign up for the community training, you know, that that's online, hotel training is on there, as well. And law enforcement, specific trainings also listed on there. So take a look at those. You know, the website will talk about, you know, here's what we're seeing across the US in generalities and that kind of thing. If you want more information, there's a contact email there, we're happy to talk to anybody that that wants to discuss it in more detail. One of the things that, you know, we get asked is okay, well, you know, what, what kind of data do you guys have? Well, there are organizations that really focus on providing data that we go to. So there's, there's other places to go to, if you really want to get into the weeds of what's my state's rating for human trafficking, and how are we doing and these various aspects, if you just want to talk, you know, finding the girls and educating communities that that's what we do, and that's on the website. And obviously, we're always open to talking to organizations, so for any of your listeners, if you're interested in training or education or support, we're, we're certainly there for you. We just want to know how to, you know, how to engage with you how to help, and then what your capacity is, so that we, we have an understanding about what we're what we're really being asked to provide. So, yeah, and I, I fail to mention this. We don't charge anything. So law enforcement, first responders, you're not you're not paying any money, your budgets are already stretched too thin. So this is, you know, this is why nonprofits are nonprofits, right? We figure out the funding and we provide the service. And so that's what we do.

  
Yeah. That's, that's awesome that it's a nonprofit. And I'm glad you're getting funding to do this. And I'm, I'm sure you could always use more funding, right? More funding leads to more outreach and more leads and everything. And it's, it's, it's the thing that solves the problem. You have to throw some money at this.


Yeah, yeah. And we survive on the good graces of a lot of monthly donors and some foundations and, and that kind of thing, right? We survived because people are willing to donate it, it matters. You know, you get asked all the time, like, Okay, if I give you a how much money do I have to give you to save a girl? Well, it doesn't really work that way. Right? I mean, the numbers are the numbers, and I can I can break them down. But in the end, you know, finding a girl being trafficked online is a matter of waiting through, you know, finding the needle in the haystack of needles, if you will, right. There's all these advertisements which one's real? But yeah, you to your point, can we always use, you know, donors and funding? Yeah, we can. What we really want is awareness, outreach and use of the programs. Because we feel pretty strongly that they're, they're useful. So


Yeah, that was great. Nate, thank you so much for being on thank you for your service to your country. And thank you, again, for serving your country in a completely different way in, you know, making an impact. I think that's, that's incredible. I look up to you for doing that. You know, someday when I leave the first responder world, I hope to do some amazing things like you're doing now and making an impact there as well.


I appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity to be on with you today. And to your to your listeners. Thanks for what you're doing in matters.


Yeah, yeah, it definitely does. Thank you so much. Thank you.


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Nate Prussian Profile Photo

Nate Prussian

Chief Operating Officer - Guardian Group

Nate Prussian retired as a Colonel from the US Army after 26 years, primarily serving in special operations units. In his final assignment Nate commanded the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg North Carolina.
Nate was drawn to Guardian Group through a desire to make a difference at home now rather than abroad. Through his travels across the globe Nate saw time and again that women and children suffered terrible acts of aggression and violence, and it’s his belief that human trafficking has no place in this country nor any other.