October 19, 2022

Cleared Hot: Lt. Col. Brian L. Slade and Michael Hirsh

One in three will experience a significant trauma in their life. For army Apache pilot, Brian Slade, his first was in Afghanistan, offering a unique perspective on preparing one’s mind for trauma. Cleared Hot puts the readers in the cockpit of the most lethal helicopter in the world, as Slade learns on the job, what it means to fly over unforgiving landscape. What’s up everybody? I’m telling you right now, you don’t want to miss the next stories my guests have tucked in their new book. Welcome back to the Author Hour Podcast. I’m your host Hussein Al-Baiaty, and today, I’m very excited to talk with veteran Michael Hirsh and Brian Slade. Let’s get into it.

All right, everyone. I am joined by Brian Slade and Michael Hirsh today on this amazing podcast episode where we get to learn about some stories and perspectives in their new book called Cleared Hot: Lessons Learned about Life, Love, and Leadership While Flying the Apache Gunship in Afghanistan, and why they believe that we can prepare our mind that can prevent PTSD. First of all, thank you all for joining me. Thank you for your service, and I’m just eager to hear about your stories and how you all met, but what brought this project forward?

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: I’ll lead with that as Brian. So, it’s been quite a long journey for me. Mike’s obviously got experience as an author, this is my cherry right here. Really what struck home, bottom line is, I realized I came out of war a lot different than a lot of my peers. And actually, some of the craziness that happened overseas served as a foundational piece of a better version of me. Yet those same types of traumatic events didn’t have that effect, or the opposite effect, ranging anywhere from people with depression or epilepsy to the worst-case scenario, people taking their own lives and that really stood out to me. And I was like, “Why?” Then I did some research with mental health professionals, and really started to figure out that there were some things that we could teach, to help people and people my whole life have been telling me, “You need to write your story, you need to write your story.” Because it’s crazy. The story is crazy.

I didn’t really have the desire to write the story until I realized that there was something that we could teach and learn from. And then I had to go find somebody that knew what they were doing. That’s how I got to Mike, because I am not a writer. I guess I am now. But I wasn’t then. I did an outline, I submitted it to like three or four different authors that I thought had pretty good military memoirs. Mike wrote None Braver, which is a book that I liked. And then I talked to all these authors, also they wanted to do it. This was like, what was it Mike? Like, two years before we actually did it?

Michael Hirsh: Yes. Maybe a year and a half, two years.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Yeah, because COVID hit and all these other things, and all that kind of stuff. Plus, I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to attack it. Well, I will say that Mike and one other author were the ones that kept saying, “Hey, are we doing this or what?” So, that gave me a little bit of insight as to the drive, and then I talked to both of them, and honestly, Mike was more humble. He wanted to do it for what I felt were the right reasons. And not only that, we had some good polarity. I’m pretty conservative. He’s pretty liberal. I’m a Mormon. He’s a Jew, and we could bust each other’s balls and still be okay with it, right. That’s my perspective. Mike, yours?

Michael Hirsh: We also discovered that we had some weird coincidences. When I was writing my book, None Braver, which was about Air Force pararescue guys in Afghanistan, and I was over there at the end of 2002. I was at Kandahar and I was writing about pararescue guys that Brian would later be flying when he went from the army to the Air Force, transitioned to flying rescue helicopters, and he actually flew some of the same guys I wrote about in my book, but I was at Kandahar before he was.

Healing Over Time

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, what a twist of events. It’s crazy how these dots connect almost subconsciously. Michael, tell me a little bit about you. I mean, I understand you’re a journalist, and you’ve written quite a bit about these things, documentaries. I also understand that you’re the recipient of the Peabody and Writers Guild Awards. I mean, in that regard, you’ve obviously spent some time not only with these men and women of service, but also, you go deep into writing the stories that impact us all. So, can you tell me a little bit about that journey of you becoming a journalist and specifically writing around these topics?

Michael Hirsh: Sure. I’ve been writing since sixth grade when I started a school newspaper and I think that’s when my journalism life started. I worked for the CBS Radio Station in Los Angeles, in the early ’60s before Vietnam. And then I was an Army combat correspondent in Vietnam assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, where I covered two infantry battalions, eventually began editing the division’s monthly magazine and assigned myself to doing some crazy stuff. I’ve flown a bombing mission in the backseat of an F-100. I did a lot of combat assaults, crazy stuff to do stories.

I did the first story out of Vietnam, about a conscientious objector medic. From there, I came back to the world, finished my degree at the University of Illinois, went back to work for the CBS Radio Station, this time in Chicago, then went into public television where I did investigative reporting and a variety of documentaries on a variety of subjects, and even some of the subjects connect with what we’re doing here. I did a documentary about college suicide, called College Can Be Killing, that focused on the way colleges and universities do or do not deal with the emotional wellbeing of their students. So, I’m familiar with that kind of problem.

And then I also did a PBS special called A Program for Vietnam Veterans and Everyone Else Who Should Care, which was done in 19- I believe, ‘83, or ‘84. And it was designed to get vets who come back from the war to understand that it’s now safe for them to talk about the war. Because when we came back from Vietnam, I came back in the late ‘66, the end of ‘66, you didn’t want to be talking about the fact that you’re a Vietnam vet. I did that. I’ve had significant connection with military topics. I tracked down 150 of the guys in World War Two, who liberated the concentration camps in the final weeks of the war, to write a book called The Liberators, and listen to their stories, and discover the guys who were 83 to 96 years old, had PTSD that had never been dealt with.

So, getting together with Brian, to talk about writing what turned out to be Cleared Hot, was just a terrific opportunity, because the book deals not only with incredible combat stories, but also with the aftermath of combat and what it does to the people that we send to war. And Brian has some theories about how those people can be better prepared for it, and how they can survive the experience as a whole person, mentally and physically.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: I do want to say that that’s another thing that stood out for me with Mike was he wasn’t just a writer that wanted to write on military stuff. He’d experienced military stuff. I mean, he’d been in that craziness. He knew what I was talking about, and even volunteered to go do things that he didn’t even have to do. And that’s the right mindset. That’s the type of person I wanted to work with. So, that was a big part of the reason. I respect the Vietnam era, because those guys came back — I came back to handshakes and goodie bags, right? And cheers and playing the Star-Spangled Banner and all that kind of stuff. Vietnam did not have the same reception. I admire the fact that they’re still — I have a great affinity for that.

Michael Hirsh: The fact that I had the experience, made it much easier for me to write the book with Brian. I mean, because we could communicate. I didn’t know how to fly a helicopter. I still don’t know how to fly a helicopter.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Come on. I pretty much taught you.

Michael Hirsh: Which hand is it? That keeps the spinny thing spinning?

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Both.

Michael Hirsh: Both. And two feet, too. But he could talk about the feelings when you’re shooting and the stuff that’s going on and the gut feeling you get when you’re under fire, and for better or for worse, I understand that.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yeah, that is so profound on both of your levels. I sit here just mesmerized by how much life both of you have endured, and captured, and in a way shared. I am just beyond excited to just hear about the stories in a way that there’s these two combat veterans that have lived two separate lives, but also at the same time have crossed paths, even long before you started writing his book and story.

So, let’s get into it a little bit. Tell me, Brian, tell me a little bit about your story, and then why you Michael, decided that this is a good story to bring out to the public, to help with this idea of PTSD and how people can heal themselves over time.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: I touched on it a little bit in the intro, but really what stood out to me was just the diverse response to the same stimulus. I was like, “There’s got to be a reason for that.” There are reasons for it, some we can affect and some we can’t. I’ve always just kind of talked about what we did as a matter of fact. I was never the person that tucked it down and buried it. That was actually one of the principles that we came to understand was, is healthy, is sharing your story. Like I said, once I realized I could dovetail those two things, have an entertaining story, and also positively affect people who maybe haven’t experienced trauma yet, and what I found out with the mental health professionals is the same principles will help those that already have experienced. I mean, obviously, it’s a little different. If we’re going to prevent a broken leg, then we prevented a broken leg. But if you broke your leg, and it’s healing, it may take longer, it might be a little bit harder to fix, and you may have a limp, you may have a limp, right? But we can do that, right? We can do that with the same principles. You don’t have to just stick there with a broken leg, so to speak.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: In your sort of adventures out there in the world, gathering these stories, meeting these remarkable men and women and displaying their stories in a way that’s helpful and impactful. What did you find about Brian’s story and specifically, that you thought would be interesting to talk about and to really bring to the world?

Michael Hirsh: There have been a lot of books about Afghanistan. But there haven’t been any about pilots flying the Apache gunship, which is an awesome war machine. It’s a unique kind of job, and I don’t think its mission is well understood by the general public. It was an opportunity to tell that story. And Brian is uniquely equipped to tell the story. He’s got a lot of stories, as near as I can tell, all of them are true, just saying. But it was just a really good opportunity to write a book about something that hasn’t been well covered. And to write it with a guy who had things to say. A lot of people have stories, but they can’t express them. They can’t say things. Brian can express himself. He says he couldn’t write a book, that he’s not a writer. Well, he’s a pretty damn good writer. He can’t spell. His grammar sucks. But he’s a good writer.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that.

Michael Hirsh: He has things to say, and he can express them. So, it was just a great opportunity. Frankly, I hope the reading public out there feels that was an opportunity worth investing time and effort in.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Oh, I absolutely think it was. So, Brian, take me to this moment. You’re on the battlefield, you’re in an Apache helicopter, you got a wounded copilot, you’re dealing with probably an insurmountable amount of stress. You also have a wife at home, who is dealing with these mental health issues. How is that wrapped up? Take me to that moment. How do you stay resilient, and bring forth from that moment, a way to help others through PTSD and understanding it with professionals today?

Dealing In the Moment

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: That’s a big question. So first off, Mike’s not wrong, I am a horrible speller. But really, I’m going to attack that question in parts just because it was very compound. There’s a lot, right? So, there are seven principles that we outlined in the book and to address the copilot being shot, and at the same time, to paint that picture, we were getting ready to engage an enemy that was in the tree line. We weren’t exactly sure where they were in the tree line. So, we’re developing the situation, meaning we’re working with the ground guys to figure out exactly where they are, so that we minimize collateral damage and maximize the impact of ordinance. 

So, we’re working with them and they’ve just given us a fidelity of information that gives us the cleared hot call, the name of the book, cleared hot means that you’ve met all the criteria to minimize collateral and impact the target with a maximum effective intent. So, we have just been given that cleared hot. So, we’re rolling in to engage the enemy, and on that roll with the helicopter, we’re roughly about 300 feet, 60 knots, which is about 90 miles an hour. And my copilot starts screaming, just blood curdling screaming, but at the same time, I noticed our rotor slowing down. I get an audio warning saying our rotor’s low and my flight control is jammed up. 

We’re falling, he’s screaming, and my flight controls don’t work. So, what had to happen and had to happen quick because I had to keep that spinny thing spinning — which was what Michael said, which one keeps it spinning. Well, they both do. So, I had to slam down the collective buttons with my left hand, which reduces the pitch in the blades, so we fall faster. We’re falling, we need to fall faster to keep it spinning, because we gotta throw air through it to keep it spinning. And so, I do that, and then there’s a backup control system in the Apache, which means you have to break a mechanical linkage to get to it.

So, I break the mechanical linkage by slamming the cyclic which is in my right hand, which makes it go right, left, forward, back, and then bring it back to center, so that we can kind of wallow and fly out of this thing. We’d lost about 200 feet, and meanwhile, the copilot is screaming, right? He’s screaming, and rightfully so. His femur has just been exploded by a PKM round that hit it directly. And unbeknownst to me at the time, and what we believe happened is his leg actually wrapped around the cyclic and that’s why they jammed up. So, when I busted it out, it flipped his leg off of that thing. So, the screams even enhanced for a second there.

That happened. And we have gun tape and it’s on the website at www.clearedhot.info. People can go get access to that and actually listen to it. But in listening to that video later, which I have done many times now, but at the time, I was able to remain calm and it’s not because I was superhuman or anything like that. It was because of techniques and practices that I put into place that allowed me to do that, allowed me to methodically prioritize what needed to happen first, which wasn’t the deal with my copilot, I had to keep the spinny thing spinning. So, I had to do that first, and then I had to communicate to my supporting assets, which is my wingman and ground units, what was happening so that we could get the effective resources lined up for my copilot who’s wounded and hopefully not fatally so. And then we triage his situation and work through that.

That was something that happened fairly effectively, and I credit it to a practice that’s called chair flying. Chair flying is if, I always describe it this way, as if meditation, visualization and role playing all got together and had a love child, that would be chair flying. What is that? What does that mean? So, you set your mind right with a meditation piece, and then you start to visualize experiences that you may not feel capable of, you’re question your ability to handle them, whether it’s an emergency procedure, in this case, engine getting shot out, losing your flight controls, your copilot getting shot. I had, at some point, envisioned most of those scenarios, and sometimes compound scenarios just like that multiple times where I would go through the visualization of exactly what I’m going to do with my hands, feet and my posture, my tone of voice, how am I going to reset. I’m going to take a deep breath, I’m going to let it out, and then I’m going to take care of business methodically and as necessary to affect what I’m trying to do. 

So, I’ve worked through that, and then you change a variable. You say, “Okay, this happens.” Because inevitably, when you start to work through it, you’re going to hit little snags. “Well, what am I going to do here?” And then you figure that out and then you go, you start from the beginning and you get past that, you hit another snag. “What am I going to do?” You figure that out, and you do it over and over till you can work it from front to back smoothly. And now, you throw variables and contingencies in there, and you do the same thing. So, when something like that happens, you’re not dealing with it for the first time. When you would normally hit those hang ups, there’s no hang up there. We already dealt with that. We dealt with that in a one G environment that I controlled.

And what I was also doing that I did not realize until talking with the mental health professionals after the deployment was a thing called stress inoculation. Stress inoculation. And it’s not unlike a medical inoculation. If you get a medical inoculation, you get a weakened dose of some sort of illness, and your body fortifies against that illness, so when the real illness comes and confronts your body, you can beat your chest and say, “Back off.” Right? So, the same is true of stress and trauma. If I inoculate myself with a weakened dose environment that I control, and I do it in the right way, I set my mind straight, so that I’m not inducing anxiety. And we can talk about how to do that, it’s more detailed, but there is a way to do that. I set my mind straight and I work through it in a controlled environment, I am in effect inoculating myself to that trauma, so when it actually occurs, I can beat my chest and say, “Not today.” You’re not going to leave scars in my brain, because I’ve inoculated against it. That’s one of the principles. There are six others, but there’s that one. As far as the wife thing, and that’s a whole another thing. That’s compartmentalization and a lot of prayer.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I think you answered that so eloquently. I think it’s so profound when this idea of mixing this, this trifecta of meditation, visualization, and this repetition, I think that’s really powerful. And then how it translates into your work now with PTSD and helping others, can you all tell me a little bit more about the work that you are doing now? As the basis, you have your whole storyline, this work and the things that you are interested in, what do you work on today, Brian, that helps others build these practices so that they can slowly start the healing process moving forward in their lives?

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Well, my hope is that — I’m still active duty currently, but I do share this stuff with the guys that I actually work with, when applicable. But my hope is that we can get the word out through this book and other means that I can go out and if a group needs this kind of speaker and interaction, or some sort of seminar, webinar, that kind of thing, to where we can actually start to get that stuff out there. It doesn’t just apply to military.

So, that chair flying piece, I mean, you could chair fly anything. You could be like, “I’m going to have a really difficult conversation with my wife.” And we know that that always blows up because it does every single time, right? I mean, I’m just saying hypothetical, right? Hypothetically speaking. So, I can take that scenario and break it down and be like, “Where does it blow up? Maybe right on the onset. Every time I address it this way, this is what happens.” So, chair fly that to where you visualize it and you start to do that, and you get to that point, and you change what you would do. You know your wife, what if she comes at me with this contingency? Well, normally, that would make my blood curl, and I would get enraged. And I might yell. Instead, when she does that, what I’m going to do is take a deep breath, I’m going to say that I understand where you’re coming from, and hopefully defuse that escalation, and de-escalate it. And you just kind of work your way through that.

In real life, there are a lot of people that deal with anxiety, so that’s why the meditation piece is really, really important. You have to get your mind in a place that you can accept this type of a walkthrough and learn from it. And the way that we do that, like we’ll use another real-world example, say, somebody that’s just scared to drive. You may go sit in the car, that’s the roleplay part of it. Sit in the car, and start to visualize that stuff. You’ve done your meditation ahead of time. You’ve gotten your mind calm, you go and you sit in the car, and you start to walk through what you’re going to do. And then there’s a point where it starts to get maybe a little too much, and anxiety starts to build. You push a little bit, not too far, we call it too simple to fail. You just do it just a little bit past what you’re comfortable, and then you go back to that meditative state. You get your brain back to calm, and you start to associate that situation with being able to control it.

So, you go back to calm and you work your way back to it. Maybe you only do it once or twice in a day at first. But you go a little further over time. But just like anything, and this is what I tell everybody, this isn’t an instant remedy. There’s no such thing. That doesn’t exist. Like anything, it takes work. It takes work and it takes effort, but the results are worth it and they’re real.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That is so powerful. You’re right, Michael, Brian has solidified his ability to express what he wants to say, because it is so powerful, man. I love these connections. Michael, I have a question for you. In working with Brian throughout his story and sort of building this book, and processes, what’s something that you learned about Brian, that you felt really enhances how people can come to this book and this story?

Black on Ammo

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Be careful.

Michael Hirsh: First thing people need to know: Brian and I have never met person to person. We’ve never been in the same room. This whole thing was done over Zoom.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s incredible.

Michael Hirsh: Which was an interesting experience, but incredibly effective because you can look at each other and then when it’s all done, you have not only an audio record in a printed record, but a visual record of the conversation. When he’s showing me what’s going on with his hands, “I turned this and I did this,” I can see him moving his hands. So that really helped. 

There’s a story in the book that really is illustrative of Brian’s character, which is something that attracts me to him. It’s in a chapter, I forgot the name of the chapter, where the guys run out of bullets.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Black on Ammo.

Michael Hirsh: Black on Ammo. Here’s this company, company-sized unit, I believe, that’s up on a hillside in the mountains in Afghanistan. They’re running out of ammunition. They’ve asked for ammunition, and people just sort of forgot about them. And Brian had been out there in support earlier in the day, and later in the day, he discovers they never got the ammunition they were supposed to get. Well, the Apache gunship is not a Chinook cargo bearing helicopter. It’s not even a slick Huey that can bring a lot of stuff in, or a Blackhawk that can bring a lot of stuff in. It’s a gunship and it’s made for that. It’s got a couple compartments where they can put stuff. But Brian said, “We’re going to do something about it.” Landed at a nearby rearming and refueling base, and they began filling garbage bags full of magazines for M4 rifles, M16 rifles, and put them in the storage compartments. And they take off, barely, and get back to the area, and his copilot is saying, “We don’t have enough power to land there.” Take it from there, Brian.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Yeah, so we took off and helicopters need density, air density, and the hotter the temperature, the better. But we were already at a pretty high altitude, and we were already power limited and to put that extra weight on the helicopter, Mike said it, we barely took off. We kind of had to bounce the helicopter over the wall, which was a technique that I had never done before and it turned out it worked.

But when we rolled in there and first of all, let me say my copilot was not your typical copilot. He was actually a very—in this particular mission, a very experienced, older warrant officer who had been relegated to the company because he was outspoken to the wrong people, but he was a great guy. I was like, “I’ll take him. Put him in my cockpit.” Because I was a relatively young aircraft commander. This is early on the deployment, I had low hours, relatively speaking. But we came up to this hill and we’re like, “How are we going to get in there? We don’t have the power.” But the closer you are to the ground in a helicopter, there’s like a cushion of air. It’s called the in-ground effect that makes you more efficient as you fly. Well, there’s a ridge line that went down to this only bald spot where we could land, which was right in the middle of where these guys were in defensive postures. So, that’s where we would land. That’s where we’d already escorted a couple of casualty evacuations earlier that day, out of that spot. So, I knew that the helicopter would fit there.

But like Mike said, we’re not really set up for it. Basically, I said, “Let’s just use the in-ground effect down the ridge line, we are going to have to go right over the Taliban to get there.” So, they’re going to be shooting up through the trees and we may catch a few. But that’s the only way, really, I think we can get in there, power wise. We did and I don’t know why I didn’t give the controls to the more seasoned pilot, but I didn’t. And we came down and we hit the ground, assertively, we’ll say, like to the point where I was like, “Did I break it?” And my copilot who was a pretty funny guy, he’s like, “Ugly, but we’re here,” or something like that. I can’t remember exactly what he said. But then these guys come out of the tree line. I’m not even kidding. These guys, they just look like death warmed over. They had camo on their face with sweat streak in it. There was just like, they were exhausted. They weren’t even –they were so tired, there were literally dirt puffs of bullets hitting in the LZ and they weren’t dodging, taking cover. They’re just walking and this is happening and they come up to the helicopter. And then they try to figure out where the ammunition is, and they can’t open the compartments because they don’t know how to do it. So, I’m like, “Oh, gosh.” All right, I told Brett, I said, “Brett, I’m going to get out and do this.” He’s like, “No, I got it.” He’s all excited about it and to paint a picture, this guy always has a cigar in his mouth. So, he’s got a cigar in his mouth. He’s like, “I got this.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Man, this is like a movie scene.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: It really kind of was, he pops out of the helicopter and jumps down there. I think in the book we say it’s like a kid in the candy store, a sadistic candy store. But he runs around and he’s handing these magazines out, the bags are ripping. So, they’re just doing like this bucket brigade to get these guys some ammunition. These guys are locking and loading. Guys are getting them, locking, pointing uphill and starting to pour rounds into the—because they’re taking fire right now. And Brett finishes the one side and as he’s actually starting to run around to the other side, there’s poof of dirt that literally goes right in between his legs, from an enemy bullet. And I’m in the—I’m like, “Ah.” He looks up at me and gives me two thumbs ups and continues around with a big old grin and opens it up and starts handing out the other stuff. The other side of all the ammunition on the other bay. Closes that up. We jump in. We take off and long story short, at the end of the day, I think that action saved a few people.

Michael Hirsh: A couple of points. Only later did you start thinking about the fact that, what if he had been hit? And now you got your copilot laying on the ground, bullets coming in, what do you do? You got a helicopter there. The larger question for me is, why did you do it? And that’s what is interesting about Brian. Other helicopters heard the same calls that these were guys who were out of ammunition and they’re going to die if they don’t get any. But Brian Slade is the one who said, “We gotta fix this,” at the risk of his own life. Why did you do it?

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Incredible. Well, thank you for sharing that deeply. I just feel that story from both of you and that resonates a lot, Michael, what you said about Brian, and kind of distinguishes his character and personality in that moment of deep despair, in helping his fellow officers, basically, get the help they need. And you’re right, he was willing to put it on the line, risk it, and luckily, they survived to tell about it. 

Obviously, you’ve worked together now for some time, not only on this book, both of you have worked deeply in this world of military and there’s plenty of stories around our heroics and despair and PTSD and specifically trauma. The trauma that we experience from these stories, and how it’s dealt with. Brian, how do you see Michael being able to take the stories of trauma, I guess, in a way, what did you learn from Michael, throughout this process?

Takeaways

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: The list is long, not all of it is distinguished. Honestly, I just felt like Mike and I worked really well together. Yeah, I just felt like we could give each other straight feedback. We might get defensive for a second, but when you’re able to do that, steel sharpens steel, right? And you’re going to come up with a better product. I would send stuff to him, he’d kick it back, “Yeah, this is messed up.” He’s send stuff to me, I’m like, “No, you messed this all up.” And we just go back and forth, until we get a chapter that we’re like, “I like it. Now, let’s go to the next one.” And that was the process, and some chapters, I don’t know, some chapters, we went back and forth 10, 15?

Michael Hirsh: 20 times. One chapter, we went back and forth, 20 times, and neither one of us were complaining about it. Each time, made it better.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: I like to say it this way. Obviously, it goes without saying, I couldn’t have written this without Mike. But I don’t know that either of us could have written it without each other. It was a true collaboration. I feel like a synergy was achieved, by one, being able to take that feedback, and we both wanted it to be the best it could be, right?

Michael Hirsh: Right. We probably spent a half hour sometimes just trying to find the right synonym. “No, that word doesn’t quite say it. What about this word? No, that doesn’t quite do it.” We just keep massaging it until, “Yeah, that works.”

Hussein Al-Baiaty: That’s so powerful. The synergy between two people working on a project or multiple people is so crucial in the success of storytelling, and the success of sharing those stories. I just appreciate both of your perspectives, and how much sort of love and respect and chemistry you brought to the table to work on this project together.

So, writing a book is a huge feat. I mean, it’s an accomplishment. Congratulations to both of you. I know, Michael, you’ll keep writing and keep bringing these stories to the world. Brian, I hope you keep writing as well and bring more, especially around trauma and PTSD and the help that you’re flying chair, that’s such an incredible way—

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Chair flying.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Chair flying, my apologies.

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Not flying chair. That’s another genre. That’s the Arabian Nights version. That’s our next book.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that. I could hang out with you guys pretty much the rest of the afternoon. I really appreciate what you brought to the table here. Can either one of you, maybe one each, tell me what’s one thing that you wish somebody would take away from the book? What’s the lesson? What’s a story that someone can walk away with from the book?

Michael Hirsh: I think, for me, the thing for me is that citizens of this country, and the lawmakers and politicians who send people to war need to understand what they’re doing. I hate it when they talk about troops like they talk about tanks or trucks or Humvees. How many they’re sending. It’s not troops, it’s individual people that they’re sending, and they need to understand when they send them that they have no right to expect them to come back the same way they were before they went over. That’s what I think, I want people to understand from this book. And it’s incumbent upon all of us to make sure that the country is prepared to take care of those people we send over when they come home. When you’re budgeting for airplanes and bombs and bullets and everything else, you’re better be budgeting for not just VA facilities, but the money to hire the best doctors and therapists and medical personnel available to make sure that they’re good when they get back.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Wow, Michael. I am blown away. I couldn’t agree with you more. Such a powerful sentiment. I know, I’ll be devouring the book here in the next couple of weeks and I’m eager to not only take that note to heart, I just really appreciate what you had to say there. Thank you. Brian, what do you hope that people will take away from the book?

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: Honestly, there’s so much that I want to take from the book. But if I had to sum it up on Mike’s note, if we better prepare beforehand, the resultant impact on the back end should be minimized. And your likelihood of being able to step back into the real world, yeah, it’s a new you. It’s a you that has—so, when you’re in the war, you’re in the ugly, there’s no doubt about it, it’s ugly. The ugly does not have to remain in you. And the more prepared you are, the more that likelihood will be increased.

Now, if it’s already happened, then yes, we gotta take some steps to fix that broken leg. But I’m very interested in increasing the strength and fortifying the mental resilience of not just military, but basically humanity as a whole. We just got to look at things a little bit differently. Now, will we be able to get that to everybody? No, but if every single person, I’ve had people who were not military read this book, and they took lessons from it that were not intended, that’s a win. If we don’t sell a copy, it’s already been a success in my book.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that so much. Thank you both so much for your time, your energy, your resources that you’ve poured into this. Thank you for being just such great collaborators, because we need stories like these to help guide future policy, and understand what really goes on, on the ground, in the air. And thank you, Michael, for pointing out that these are beautiful human beings that have live stories, children and wives, that they’re also taken care of, and families that that matter, and that we need to think about them differently. They are not just a number. They are remarkable people who literally put their lives on the line. I’m profoundly grateful to have met both of you today on the show. I hope to hear more of your stories later on. 

Again, I’m super excited to jump into the books. I enjoyed our conversation. So, the book is Cleared Hot: Lessons Learned about Life, Love, and Leadership While Flying the Apache Gunship in Afghanistan, Why I Believe a Prepared Mind Can Prevent PTSD. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you, Brian? And then we’ll go to Michael after that. Where can people find you two?

Lt. Col. Brian Slade: For me, [email protected] is an email that you can hit me up at. I’d love to hear people’s stories because one of the things that I said through the construction of this book is because I felt this, is that you should share your story. It’s cathartic for you. But not only is it cathartic for you, you never know when your story might be the key to someone else’s luck. So, in a way, you almost have a responsibility. So, share it with me.

Michael Hirsh: I’m in Punta Gorda, Florida digging up from Hurricane Ian, and we came through okay, but I can be reached at [email protected]. That’s H-I-R-S-H, no C in Hirsh. [email protected]. But check out the website, clearedhot.info.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: I love that. Thank you both so much for joining me today. I wish you so much success with the book launch. You guys have a wonderful weekend up ahead.

Michael Hirsh: Thank you very much, Hussein. We really appreciate your time.

Hussein Al-Baiaty: Yes, absolutely. My pleasure.