'Combat Medicine:' Afghanistan Vet Seeks To Help Others Through Hip-Hop

Jun 21, 2017
Originally published on June 21, 2017 4:39 pm

There is no one sure way to reach combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or substance abuse. But a new hip-hop album called Combat Medicine, released Wednesday, might help. It was written and performed by George "Mik" Todd, who goes by the name Doc Todd. He's a former Fleet Marine Force corpsman — essentially a combat medic — who served alongside the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.

Todd's style is tough and direct in a way that only one veteran can be to another. In the song "Not Alone," he urges veterans to take action in their own recovery.

Take those bottles out, dog

and pour 'em in the sink.

Take the needles out of your arm

And the gun away from your forehead.

It's time, man.

You've been through enough pain.

Stand up.

It's time to stand back up.

Todd says the song is about empowerment, "about taking charge of your life, taking charge of your transition" from the combat zone to civilian life.

In his own transition, Doc Todd went through many of the issues other veterans face: shame, isolation, self-abuse. For Todd, it began in 2009 after he was in a large and dangerous battle in Afghanistan. Many of his friends were seriously wounded. His roommate was killed. Todd was medically evacuated to Germany after he fell seriously ill with pneumonia.

"That tore me up so bad, because I felt like I was alienated from the guys I served with," Todd recalls. "I felt like there was an asterisk next to my deployment. I felt like it would've been better if I got shot because that would've been more heroic."

Todd says it took him several years before he got help for his PTSD. He was depressed and started drinking heavily. Eventually, he realized what he needed to be doing was helping other veterans. With savings from his job as a money manager and help from his wife, he was able to quit his job. He'd been making music since he was a teenager. Now, he wanted to use his music to help veterans heal. And he had plenty of material for his lyrics.

The struggle is real

Found a feast

And lost a soul

Eventually my drinking

It got out of control

There in darkness, I roamed

Struggling to find home

See Suddenly death didn't

Feel so Alone

In the video for "Not Alone," a young veteran gets out of bed and immediately reaches for the bottle. That scenario is all too real, says former Marine Zach Ludwig who served with Todd in Afghanistan and is now working through his own PTSD.

"He knows what to say and how to say it," Ludwig says, pointing to Todd's combat experience. "What the man says is just blunt force truth."

Todd says facing the truth, no matter how difficult, can do more to help veterans than "coddling" them. His mission with Combat Medicine is to show vets they're not alone and to urge them to get help.

"We have to be responsible for empowering our own lives. And it doesn't really help when the overwhelming narrative is victimization and brokenness," he says.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There isn't one sure way to help combat veterans who have PTSD, depression or who abuse alcohol or drugs. But we're going to hear about a new hip-hop album released today that could help. It's written and performed by a former Navy corpsman - that's someone the Marines would call a medic - who served in Afghanistan. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Doc Todd is direct.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

DOC TODD: (Rapping) Take those bottles out, Dog, and pour them in the sink. Take the needles out of your arm and the gun away from your forehead. It's time, Man. You've been through enough pain. Stand up.

BLAIR: He's tough in the way that only one veteran can be to another.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

TODD: (Rapping) It's time to stand back up. All my veterans, Man - Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, get up. You know...

BLAIR: The song "Not Alone" is from the album "Combat Medicine."

TODD: "Not Alone" is about empowerment. "Not Alone" is about taking charge of your life, taking charge of your transition.

BLAIR: In his own transition, Doc Todd went through many of the same issues lots of veterans face - shame, isolation, self-abuse. For Todd, it began in 2009 after he was in a large and dangerous battle in Afghanistan. Many of his friends were seriously wounded. His roommate was killed. He was medevacked to Germany when he fell seriously ill with pneumonia.

TODD: That tore me up so bad because I felt like I was alienated from the guys that I served with. I felt like there was an asterisk next to my deployment. I felt like it would have been better if I would've got shot because that would have been more heroic.

BLAIR: Todd says it took him several years before he got help for his PTSD. He was depressed and started drinking. Eventually he realized what he needed to be doing was helping other veterans. With savings from his job as a money manager and help from his wife, he was able to quit his job. He'd been making music since he was a teenager. Now he had plenty of material for his lyrics.

TODD: The struggle is real - found a feast and lost a soul. Eventually my drinking - it got out of control. There in darkness, I roamed, struggling to find home. See; suddenly death didn't feel so alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

TODD: (Rapping) Twenty-two a day, destination unknown - it could've been avoided if you picked up the phone. But now you're gone, so I guess all we'd get is the tone - nothing but blowing weeds overgrown, pushing up stones. I've triumphed over enemies, co-created many me's (ph).

BLAIR: To record "Combat Medicine," he worked with the hip-hop producer Mook. The singer Bingx, who also served in the military, is a guest artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

BINGX: (Singing) Boy, I try so hard to have faith.

TODD: Amen.

BINGX: (Singing) I bow my head, and I pray.

TODD: Keep praying.

BINGX: Lord, please lend me the strength to carry on and keep standing.

TODD: Stand up.

BLAIR: In the video to the song "Not Alone," a young veteran gets out of bed and reaches for the bottle. Former Marine Zach Ludwig served with Doc Todd in Afghanistan.

ZACH LUDWIG: The video was very accurate. I mean it was like - it's like, that's not the movies.

BLAIR: Ludwig is working through his own PTSD. Doc Todd, he says, captures exactly what he's going through in his lyrics.

LUDWIG: He knows what to say and how to say it. And because he's experienced it, he has the ethos to back it up. I mean what the man speaks is just blunt-force truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

TODD: (Rapping) Without my Georgia girls, yeah, I'd probably be dead because I'd be taking every med that the VA said - gave every shred, every last thread of my identity. Conquer my fragility. Eliminate the enemy.

BLAIR: Blunt-force truth can do more to help veterans than, in Todd's words, coddling them.

TODD: You know, we have to be responsible for empowering our own lives. And it doesn't really help when the overwhelming narrative is victimization and brokenness.

BLAIR: Doc Todd says his mission with the album "Combat Medicine" is to show veterans they're not alone and to urge them to get help. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOT ALONE")

BINGX: (Singing) I hurt each time I wait. But with you I'm not alone. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.