DALLAS — Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley started Carry The Load 13 years ago because the Navy Seals were tired of Memorial Day's focus on car sales, furniture clearances and happy barbecues, and not focused on what it's supposed to be: a day to honor those who gave their lives for their country.
Now, Carry The Load is a successful nationwide movement spreading that message.
But Holley, the president and CEO of a non-profit organization that has helped funnel more than $12 million to veteran and first responder assistance organizations, agreed to talk about why he knows, with personal experience, the support services as so vital.
"It's a very lonely place," Holley admitted of his own struggles that took place even as Carry The Load was positively impacting so many lives.
"And candidly, I'd tell you it's really be in the last 10 years where I have struggled with depression, anxiety, some mental health issues that I didn't see coming," he said.
Carry The Load's fundraising helps dozens of nonprofits who help active and veteran military and first responders deal with post traumatic stress and other issues: a brotherhood and sisterhood to help see each other through. As Holley watched that success, he said he was fighting is own demons too.
"It wasn't really until some long bouts of depression and anxiety that I came to understand just how challenging it could be," he said. "And it's just such a, it's a spot that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."
"If it weren't for my wife, I don't know if the outcome would have been what it is," he continued.
Veterans will tell you that the memories of the fellow soldiers they lost, the horrors of war they witnessed, and the return to a civilian world without the structure of a military life can lead them down a dark and dangerous path.
Holley said he understands that even more intimately now after getting the help he needed.
"I am very thankful for the perspective that it's given me and the lessons that I've learned," he said. "Most people will understand that you learn more when you're getting your teeth kicked in, proverbially, than you do when things are going your way."
And that's where he sees a living benefit of Carry The Load and all that it has become.
"Still safe to say that Carry The Load is partial therapy for you too?" WFAA reporter Kevin Reece asked him.
"100% therapy for me," answered Holley.
"Even as sad as some people can look at Memorial Day, it's still a community that can help with that isolation," Reece said of the community that Carry The Load has brought together to help people carry and survive their shared grief.
"Absolutely. Absolutely," Holley said, referring to the annual cross country relays, the education programs, and the continuum of care organizations that operate with the financial assistance of Carry The Load.
Holley said he absolutely embraces the reality that the group he helped found, designed to carry and keep memories of service and sacrifice alive, continues to help carry him.