CONTENT WARNING: This story contains information about post-traumatic stress, suicide and mental health.
Adam Carr (BA ’06, MBA ’19) can pinpoint the exact moment in his life when he first felt helpless.
He was 10 years old.
A close family member was in the midst of a mental health crisis, and as Adam sat in the hospital room with his family, he felt hopeless and powerless.
It was also the moment he committed himself to a lifetime of servant leadership. He vowed to be a helper, to provide hope, no matter what it took of him — and no matter where it led him.
That path led to the United States Army Special Forces, commonly known as the Green Berets — and it took him around the globe.
Adam’s military career began in the Ohio Army National Guard after the September 11th attacks.
After Basic Training, he returned to attend The Ohio State University and earned his undergraduate degree in security and intelligence, which was then a new program at Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences. Shortly before graduating, he signed an active-duty contract with the U.S. Army with an option to try out for the Special Forces Qualification Course, a grueling, two-year training program that began with more than 400 soldiers but ended with Adam and just 19 other soldiers earning the distinguished honor of being Green Berets.
By the time Adam earned the distinction, the United States was engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Adam’s unit, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (A), was deployed all over the globe, and when he transitioned out of the military, he had a successful resume filled with deployments and joint operations with the CIA, FBI and a slew of other three-letter agencies.
Adam’s unit fought for American interests, but in doing so, it liberated citizens trying to survive under terrorist-led regimes, underscoring the Green Berets’ motto of de oppresso liber, which indirectly translated from Latin means “free from the oppressor” or “to liberate the oppressed.”
Within the nine doctrinal missions carried out by Special Forces soldiers are nation-building operations, and these missions are the ones Adam is most proud of. He remembers his team building a school and a library in Afghanistan, bringing education opportunities to an area for the first time.
“I wanted to do something where I had the ability to have a real impact beyond just hunting down terrorists,” says Adam. “I wanted to work with people directly and help them be self-sufficient.”
By 2013, Adam had spent 12 years in the military, and it had taken its toll on him and his young family. He had been on multiple combat rotations and was seeing a mass exodus of colleagues leaving to pursue other career paths.
“It’s a tough decision every veteran has to make,” Adam says of transitioning out of the military. “I was gone 10 months out of the year, I had to make a decision as a husband and as a father.”
He was nervous about transitioning to civilian life but realized he had everything going for him: he was part of an elite military unit, he had family support, an undergraduate degree from Ohio State and top-secret clearance. He expected life to be pretty easy compared to what he’d witnessed and experienced during the past decade.
Except it wasn’t. The impact of losing his military identity was difficult for him.
“I had a really tough time transitioning,” he says. “That’s part of the problem with veterans and first responders — their life is synonymous with their work. It’s hard to separate the two.”
He was 32 years old, already felt like he’d had an entire career and was left to wonder how he could make meaning out of his life after his military service. Adam wasn’t the only one struggling, nor was becoming a civilian the most challenging obstacle he faced.
During his extensive career, Adam noticed a slew of depression, alcoholism and suicide throughout his military community. In 2009 he made a declaration to himself that he was going to find a way to address the suicide epidemic. Then, shortly before he left the military, his best friend and teammate was killed in action, and he lost four close friends and family to suicide: his commander in Afghanistan; a teammate; his first friend and colleague in the military (who passed away on Adam’s birthday); and a beloved uncle.
By 2016, Adam had lost more than a dozen friends, colleagues and servicemen to suicide because they couldn’t see another way.
After the suicide on his birthday, Adam logged on to Facebook Live one evening and just started talking.
“I don’t know what I expected when I started the video,” he says. “But in that moment, expressing myself in such an open, raw and vulnerable way was both terrifying and liberating.”
With a bag of pills, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a 9-millimeter pistol on his desk in front of him, Adam explained the problems in his community and the lack of meaningful support he felt was available for his brothers and sisters.
The video went viral and out of the tens of thousands of messages he received, two changed the trajectory of his life.
One was from a woman who said she was planning to end her life that night. Adam’s video stopped her. His pain was relatable, and because of that, she realized she wasn’t alone and decided she wanted to live.
“That was a wake-up call for me,” says Adam. “Now I knew how to provide value outside of my military service. This was something I could do — I could feel it in my heart.”
“In my darkest moment, I found my purpose — to transform lives.”
The second message he received was from a shepherd at Save A Warrior (SAW). He invited Adam to spend the week as a “witness” to their program and experience how they help veterans and first responders cope with symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidal ideation.
“I was searching for a program that offered some sort of a glimpse of a solution and their story was compelling enough for me to go and check it out,” he said.
Adam attended Cohort 035 and saw 10 of his brothers completely transform their lives in less than a week. What Adam didn’t expect is that it would have such a powerful impact on himself.
He knew it was time to reorient his life to help liberate others, this time in the civilian world.
His SAW experience prompted him to get involved with the organization, first as a volunteer. Over the next five years, he worked as a master integrator, leading more than 75 cohorts; then as its deputy director and major gifts officer and ultimately as its executive director.
While earning his MBA at Fisher, Adam helped scale SAW from a four-person operation with an annual budget of $116,000 to a staff of 16 and an asset sheet with more than $7 million, and he helped recruit and train more than 500 volunteers. Together with SAW founder Jake Clark, and the SAW team, Adam has helped the organization: raise nearly $20 million dollars in donations and in-kind contributions, begin to establish an endowment, and forge partnerships with private companies, government organizations and foundations throughout the U.S. The hard work culminated in the construction of the nation’s first and only National Center of Excellence for Complex Post Traumatic Stress, which is scheduled to open in June 2022 in Hillsboro, Ohio.
In the summer of 2021, Adam transitioned out of the executive director role but remains on staff as a master integrator.
“Making SAW a ‘forever organization’ has always been my goal so that veterans and first responders will always have a place to go if they’re hurting,” Adam says. “Save A Warrior isn’t the end-all, be-all. But we can help reframe someone’s perspective and evoke hope in the heart where there is none. This is where true transformation begins. We get people ready for life on life’s terms.”
Entrepreneurship and The Western Zen
SAW is continually asked to take its program into the corporate community. But as a nonprofit with a governing board, bylaws and fiduciary responsibilities, it is unable to operate outside of the original scope of the organization.
This is why Adam and Jake Clark founded a new company, The Western Zen. The organization provides customized programming for leaders who seek true organizational change by addressing the whole health of their employees — be it at companies, hospitals, board rooms, C-suites, schools or first responder and government agencies.
“Business leaders need to understand their employees are dealing with things,” says Adam. “They come to work with emotional turmoil and moral injuries, and the pandemic has compounded an additional layer of stress and trauma into people’s lives.”
Adam credits the military for honing his business acumen, calling it a crash-course MBA in real-life situations.
“It was a powerful experience,” he says. “I was leading hundreds of people at a time, using different languages, multiple currencies, deep-level strategy and trying to avoid improvised explosive devices, ultimately playing chess with my enemies.”
When it came time to earn his MBA, Fisher was the only choice that made sense for him.
“I originally started out as a finance major at Fisher during undergrad,” says Adam. “Coming back to Fisher to earn my MBA was coming back to my roots – like coming home.”
After a global military career, and understanding the value he places on the emotional work and healing he put into his own health and that of other warriors, Adam says he knew he was in the right place his first day at Fisher.
“I sat down at orientation, and they passed out gratitude journals,” he recalls. “Fisher gets it. They understand business is no longer just about ones and zeros, dollars and cents — Fisher understands that great leadership starts with emotional intelligence.”
Adam’s experiences have proven to him that emotional intelligence (EQ) is important for self-identity, self-development and self-preservation.
“EQ is probably the most important skill anyone can have,” says Adam. “I can hire all the accountants or supply chain experts I want to do a job, but what I really need to know is, ‘Do they have the EQ to work as a team? To last through adversity? To work with different people and personalities?’”
Fisher’s focus on EQ is so important to Adam that he volunteers in its MBA Professional Development Coaching Program.
“Coaching is one of my intrinsic drivers,” says Adam. “Giving back to Fisher in this way is part of my commitment to service — to helping others, and to helping create the next generation of business leaders.”