Master Sgt. Brad Colbert talks with Marine Sgt. Zachary Lira on the morning of the final two jumps of Lira's Airborne certification class in Fort Benning, Ga. (Grant Blankenship)
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Master Sgt. Brad Colbert uses his fame within the Corps to help eliminate the stigma among service members about seeking help for service-related mental health issues. (Grant Blankenship)
In "Generation Kill," he was known as the Iceman. Today, nearly 10 years removed from the events that inspired the popular book and subsequent TV miniseries, Master Sgt. Brad Colbert is still one cool customer.
A special skills operations chief at the Army's airborne school in Fort Benning, Ga., Colbert is responsible for making sure that Marines who attend the program receive the necessary skills and meet their requirements. He also regularly leaps from C-130s to reinforce proper jump techniques.
As depicted in author Evan Wright's rendering of 1st Reconnaissance Battalion's role during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Colbert's gungy persona resonated with Marines, earning him a place in the annals of Marine Corps culture. Even after leaving 1st Recon in 2010, Colbert said he still felt the need for speed particularly when behind the wheel. But as a senior staff noncommissioned officer, he's now concerned with setting a positive example and helping Marines find appropriate outlets for their energy.
Colbert recently signed on as a speaker with the Heroes and Healthy Families Leadership Awareness Conference, hoping to use his notoriety from "Generation Kill" to help younger Marines identify behavioral red flags that could be detrimental to their careers. Marine Corps Times spoke with him Oct. 3. Here are excerpts from the interview, edited for clarity and brevity:
Q: What is your objective when you speak to Marines?
A: It's perfectly human to admit that you have a problem. It means that you are willing and mature enough as a Marine to identify that there's something within yourself that needs changing and that you're willing to get the help that you need. This is not a lecture on speeding, safe driving or even motorcycle safety. It's strictly: hey, you guys know me or at least a version of me and I'm telling you that it's ok to seek help if you need help. It's not strictly limited to risky behavior, it's managing adrenaline post-deployment.
Q: Talk about your struggle with speeding. Have you ever been NJPed?
A: I never received an NJP. Professionally, it's never impacted me. It's been an expensive pursuit though. I've had a lot of familiarity with the civilian traffic court system.
Q: How fast are we talking?
A: 130 mph on some violations; 85 to 90 mph on others.
Q: In addition to speeding, were there other behavioral red flags you exhibited?
A: I was short-fused. Being exposed to constant high stress levels for long periods of time, it causes the body to do some interesting things. When you're no longer in that environment, sometimes the body just has a hard time readjusting. It's during that readjustment phase that some of these red flags will show.
Q: What triggered those responses?
A: Lines at the ATM, the bank, the post office. Standing and waiting and watching the absolute mundane officious machine just makes me lose my mind. Traffic was a huge trigger. When I'd drive a car, I'd get really bad road rage.
Q: What helps?
A: You want to expose yourself to people who didn't share what you did because it gives you a mirror of what appropriate, normal peacetime civilian behavior is. I think we've come a long way. But there's still this lingering culture in the military that if you see a therapist or psychologist that there's something wrong with you, and we're trying to help remove that. From the mental health standpoint, there are so many of our service members who struggle with depression or alcoholism or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and they don't do anything about it because they're scared to death they're going to be seen as weak or less human. It's a really hard stigma to try and get rid of.
Q: What else do you think the force needs to do to encourage alternatives/outlets for risky behavior?
A: I think workshops post-deployment within the first week of returning is outstanding. It has to be immediate, relevant and meaningful. I think Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing needs to be much more common as a method of treatment. I'd like to see the Navy and Marine Corps do a lot more of it.
Q: What is your approach to mentoring junior Marines at risk of engaging in risky behavior?
A: The single Marine programs, I don't want to [slander] them but they can be somewhat campy. We try to do a really good job of finding afterhours activities for single Marines. If you're just going to sit in the barracks, play X-Box and get sh_ _-faced, that's not going to work. We need to find something else for you to do.
There's also something to be said about making an example out of bad behavior. It looks like sh_ _ if the Capt. or Sgt. Maj. gets a DUI or gets busted for adultery. If you set the example, absolutely balls to bone, that has second- and third-order effects that you can't even quantify.
Q: Does having notoriety come with a sense of obligation?
A: It's somewhat embarrassing at times. I've had a lot of Marines come up to me and tell me that I was the impetus for them joining the Marine Corps. I try not to do anything to discredit that. But more importantly, I try not to let those people down.
Q: Your nickname is the Iceman. How were you able to keep your cool in combat situations?
A: Calm breeds calm. When the bullets fly and people are scared, that is infectious. So is panic and confusion. I'm a human being though. I have good days and bad days. There are things that annoy me, and people, more than anything, that annoy me.
Q: How did "Gen. Kill" impact your career?
A: The ability to speak with credibility about managing stress and adrenaline probably would have fallen on deaf ears if I was not who I am. My notoriety has allowed me to have a certain authenticity.
Q: What is something people don't know about you?
A: I'm a pretty solitary and private person.
Q: What fallacies did "Gen. Kill" perpetuate about the Recon community?
A: There were a lot of people that [thought the series] may have brought discredit on our service. There is nothing wrong with transparency. I think that if senior Marines didn't understand that was what it was like for the sergeant and below, then they were not engaging their juniors.
I think [it] perpetuated a myth that there is a cultural rift between the officer Corps and their enlisted counterparts. We have two different roles in life. That's a Hollywood perception that officers and enlisted Marines don't get along.
Q: If you weren't a Marine, what would you be?
A: God, there's so many things that peak my interest. I would have loved to have been an astronaut. The whole reason I came into the Marine Corps was to fly. Then you grow up and reality sets in and you realize, ‘Oh wow, I've got to do four years of college in order to fly, that's kind of boring.' You know, capricious youth.
Q: What do you want to do once you retire?
A: I've thought about being a chef. I'd like to finish getting my helicopter pilot's license. I wouldn't mind getting a job with the CIA or NSA. There's also been some interest in being a military adviser for production companies in Hollywood or Burbank, Calif.