With his military career wrapping up, Dr. Damon Friedman is stripping his “Superman” outfit and replacing it with civilian garb.
But that doesn’t mean the fight has ended.
The Downtown LA native will continue his mission of fighting enemies. As a veteran, the enemy he’s battling is suicide.
“My purpose always been the same,” he said. “I’m trying to help people who can’t help themselves. I’m passionate about the issue of suicide.
“After all these years, nothing is worse than to see the men and women who have done extraordinary things, served this incredible country, going through all the hell and then come home, get into a really dark place and it’s so dark that they lose hope. Their life to them is meaningless. The pain is so overwhelming they’d rather end it. They use their freedom to take their freedom.”
In 2017, 45,390 American adults died from suicide, including 6,139 U.S. veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The suicide rate is 1.5 times greater among the veteran community,” said Friedman, who earned a doctorate in intercultural studies from Fuller. “This whole coronavirus crazy has isolated our veterans more than ever, causing a spike in suicides.”
Friedman has joined the White House, Department of Veterans Affairs and several nonprofits to form the Faith-Based Veteran Service Alliance to make a global impact in the fight against veteran suicide.
Recently, the White House rolled out the PREVENTS Task Force Roadmap to empower veterans and end the national tragedy of suicide. President Donald Trump said this roadmap expands White House and VA partnerships to include those with faith-based leaders to establish specialized support systems for veterans.
“Many of these warriors are unable to reintegrate back into civilian life, leaving their families to deal with the aftermath of broken homes and, at times, suicide,” said Friedman, president of Shield of Faith Missions and co-chairman of FBVSA.
“By addressing the mind, body and soul, the warriors we serve can once again, successfully lead their families, their communities and our nation.”
Friedman said his new mission is to empower people to find purpose and be resilient.
“The path to wellness is different for everyone,” he said. “There isn’t one treatment to save everyone. You don’t know if that individual’s struggle is from a concussion, which changed the way our brains operate. Not everyone has PTSD. Everybody’s trauma is different. We’ve all had different experiences.”
Friedman suggested taking a holistic approach.
“Depending on where this person is and what they believe, they may need a psychologist, or social activities or physical therapy,” he said. “If you’re like me and banged up from the floor up, you need it all.”
A self-described “vagabond,” Friedman lived in 14 different homes in the first 12 years of his life.
“My mom had different jobs, working for minimum wage,” he said. “It was driven by my biological father, who was very abusive. The dude did everything you can imagine. He was very abusive in so many ways.”
He did drugs, had anger issues, and manhandled Friedman’s mother and him.
“We were running away from him,” he said. “We lived in low-income housing in Downtown LA in the projects. We went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to try to find hope. But LA has a special place in my heart.
“I’ve been homeless before and lived out of my car. I pitched a tent, trying to get from point A to point B.”
A member of Premiere Speakers Bureau, Friedman spends his time sharing his story with the public.
“I do travel to Southern California, often speaking in large venues that are faith-based as well as veteran military events,” said Friedman, who, on August 4, released the book “Igniting Movements: How Critical Factors and Special Ops Empower World Changers.”
“Every person has a purpose. If I can make it, living in Downtown LA as a vagabond, barely passing school, flunking a grade, anyone can. I barely fricking made it.
“One day, I woke up and looked at myself. I heard a voice who said, ‘I have a plan for you.’ It was the most profound voice I had ever heard, but it came during one of my darkest times as an adolescent.”
Later on, he heard a different voice. This time it said he was loved and he was going to do wonderous things with his life. He decided to no longer listen to the “loser voices.”
He became energized like a bolt of lightning.
Friedman joined the military. The combat-decorated veteran served four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the global war on terrorism. Originally a U.S. Marine Corps officer, Friedman transferred to the Air Force’s elite as a special tactics officer (combat controller) and a leader in special operations. His decorations include three Bronze Stars (one with valor) and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.
He’s retiring because, he said. “It’s a young man’s game now.”
“I’ve made my contribution,” he added. “I’m just trying to figure out how now to work 20 hours a day. I just want to empower people to change the world for good.
“There’s so much chaos, hate and anger. We all need to come together and have some form of unity. It’s about changing the world one life at a time.”