By Annie Nelson
Sitting across the table from him, you see a handsome well trained, dark-haired dark-eyed, well-built man. Staring off into the windows with a gaze I could tell was of a land far away. Former Air Force TACP officer Seth Griffith is at dinner with friends, but his heart and thoughts are back in Ukraine, where he just returned from. I have the honor of calling this veteran hero — friend and wanted to share his story, especially since he and so many of his brothers in arms are still serving as civilians in the war zone of Ukraine. Serving not in the fight but in the humanitarian rescue of the children caught up in this war. Saving the orphans. However, to understand how Seth got to the front lines of Ukraine, you should first know his journey.
Seth grew up in the suburbs of St Louis, Mo. He chose the military path because he was in a place where he felt he needed to grow up. As an athlete, the military offered him a way to use his athletics and teamwork mentality to excel in a team environment.
His stepfather was in the Air Force and had always told him there were some unique jobs the Air Force could offer him, and he should investigate them. He did just that, and the TACP job excited him. For those not familiar, a Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) officer directs lethal and nonlethal joint firepower anywhere, anytime battle calls for it. They are also the primary Air Force advisors to the U.S. Army, joint multinational and special operations ground force commanders for the integration of air, space and cyber power. They are considered Special Warfare Airmen. Seth felt he could go to Army schools and work alongside the combat arms side of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps — all of which got his blood pumping!
He served for just over 20 years before he retired, serving seven deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq between 2002 and 2012.
His transition away from this military into civilian life was a struggle. A struggle until now. Where he has landed into a new team! He struggled to connect with a lot of people in corporate America. “I met some great people, don’t get me wrong, but the mentality was a very different ‘team’ environment or lack thereof than I was used to. I excelled in each position but spent several years in the construction and homebuilding industry bouncing around, trying to find the right fit. Turns out if it wasn’t the fit, I just had other passions of serving.
Finding my current position with the Ariel Recovery Group has truly filled a void and brought fulfillment back into my professional life.”
Our conversation continued, and I decided to cross the bridge of PTS and ask if he had any challenges with it. Seth’s response was very candid.
I do. Triggers hit us all differently, and I do not use any PTS as an excuse for behaviors and dislike any victim mentalities. I knew what I was signing up for — volunteered. My triggers are centered around emotional numbness and past alcohol consumption. Deployments and crazy schedules, once you get home from deployments to keep you proficient for your next deployment date (that you sometimes knew before your current deployment was even complete), is a hard pace for someone who is struggling with PTS, mental or financial issues or adjusting to a divorce. And we do not want to miss the next deployment, so we underplay injuries so that we can go do our jobs when we are counted on.
I try to focus on “what is real” to power through. My amazing wife Jenna taught me that phrase and has provided me with a far better understanding of trauma and trauma-related responses than I had before. Living with PTS is very doable; you are newlywed with a new RIGHT job and thriving just proves you can succeed. You just have to keep the never-quit mentality and keep doing the work.
Now to Ukraine, how did you get there? Please tell me about the Ariel Recovery Group.
Aerial Recovery Group is comprised primarily of retired or separated special operations vets who are highly skilled, trained and have the outside-of-the-box mindset to rapidly deploy into sometimes very dynamic situations and be the ultimate humanitarian operators to deploy at a moment’s notice. We deployed to natural disasters like the earthquakes in Haiti last year, the flash flood in Waverly, Tenn., Hurricane Ida, the tornadoes in Mayfield, Ky. and anything we had the bandwidth to respond to.
We also respond to manmade disasters like the Afghanistan crisis that occurred late summer last year (we were very involved) and Ukraine. I’m currently back for my second deployment to rescue orphans and refugees from areas under attack and evacuate them into safe zones in the country where we can keep them secure and move them again quickly if the ground situation changes drastically from where it currently is.
What specifically is your role with the organization? I understand this organization is a nonprofit.
I am the Director of Disaster Response for Aerial Recovery Group/Aerial Recovery.
Seth, how did you guys decide to get involved in Ukraine?
Anytime there is an event in the world, we immediately look at how our company can go and serve. We have some very strong NGO partners, and we mutually support each other. In Ukraine, it was a no-brainer, just like Afghanistan was, to rapidly deploy and start saving lives. We already knew we would be getting involved in the crisis. Preexisting partnerships gave us an additional reason to be there so we could get in with the government and start rescuing orphans and anyone who wanted to be immediately evacuated from areas currently in high threat.
Last but not least, what is next for you?
Personally, I would love to travel more with my wife and family and unwind and unplug from the world a little bit. I love my job and have found a renewed purpose for me. In general, my family and friends have become my hobby, and I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. When your free time is limited, you make the most of it or at least try to after you’ve had a cool-off period.
So, if a buddy wants to go shooting, I go shooting. Hiking, count me in. Family dinner — that’s the priority hobby for that moment! But other than that, my hobbies are pretty much anything outdoors, or enjoying on, in or under water sports during the warm weather months or in the part of the world we are in at that minute. Lastly, and this is the one thing I really do just for me, football. I love the sport, and it’s a way for me to unplug from everything else for around three hours and be a big kid again.
Photo: Annie Nelson and Seth Griffith