Beyond The Battlefield
Beyond the Battlefield
Our Association, filled will both active and retired TACPs, is strong network that can be leveraged for those transitioning out of the military and those currently in the business community. TACPA wants to provide resources for our members by telling the success stories of retired TACPs and offering network connections for TACPs transitioning out of the military. Each newsletter will feature a retired TACP doing great things post-service.
Q&A with Wes J. Bryant, Author of Hunting the Caliphate
Wes retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2018 at the rank of Master Sergeant after twenty years of active duty service. Embedded with Special Forces teams under a Navy SEAL task force, Wes was the tactical lead for a contingent of special operations JTACs to first set foot in Iraq to stop ISIS. As the senior enlisted JTAC to establish the BIAP Strike Cell, Wes coordinated and controlled the first airstrikes against ISIS in the Baghdad region. He later deployed as the senior Special Tactics JTAC for special operations task forces hunting ISIS in Syria and Afghanistan.
How did you decide on this new career was a writer?
Well, I’m still refining my path and exactly where I am going from here. That is a constant process. But, as far as writing the book and the public/media involvement I’ve done in relation to it, it was really a matter of circumstance at first. I’d written my entire life—it’s been my passion—but I never actually envisioned writing a book about my military experiences.
Frankly, I just focused on our mission. In fact, I often found a lot of the military books out there to be nothing but chest beating nonsense that detracts from the professional reputation of our combat forces. But when MG Pittard—who had been the commander on the ground in Iraq in 2014 and led the Baghdad Strike Cell—retired around 2016, he reached out to me that he was working on a book to record the history of those first few months of the campaign against ISIS, and asked for my contribution from a senior JTAC perspective.
That evolved into a partnership and co-authorship. We realized that we could truly create something unique, to tell the story and give legacy to the men and women involved in the fight against ISIS. And, from there, we worked for the next 3 years writing, refining, editing, pitching, finally getting picked up from a publisher.
But I had the opportunity to be the first JTAC to write a first-person perspective on modern warfare and our airstrike campaigns, and to help write the first book on the war on ISIS from the warfighter’s perspective. To be able to highlight and represent the Air Force, the JTAC community, TACP, and ST to the American public was a responsibility that I did not take lightly and was extremely grateful for. And so, deciding on this new path was really an evolving process.
Did you know much about this new industry/career before you retired?
I knew nothing about the book writing and book publishing world—nothing at all. In the four-plus years I’ve been involved in it now, I’ve learned a whole lot. I've immersed myself into this world, and have put as much into it as I always did in my career as a TACP. If you’re not doing that, in whatever it is you are pursuing, you’re doing something wrong and are probably wasting your time, in my opinion.
Did you build a network (or have trouble) building a professional network after you retired?
I will answer an extremely vigorous YES on this one. I never saw the value in it when I was active duty. I never had the need. I wasn’t an enlisted TACP for some grand status or wealth. Like most of us, my career was principled. I loved what I did, I believed in what we do as TACPs, JTACs, and as American warfighters—it gave me fulfillment. Toward that end, I was a senior U.S. special operator, going back and forth, hunting and killing bad dudes for my country for much of my career. In my mind, I had no need for professional “networks.”
I learned, really quickly, that once that all ends, and you have to unplug yourself from that world and integrate into the “real” world, those networks are as vital as your PRC-152 is on objective. And it’s hard to just try to build your network overnight, so start early because no matter what you are doing now, one day that will all be over, and you’ll be out here in the "shark tank."
What was a great piece of advice you received that helped you as you movedin tothis next chapter of your life?
Honestly, my co-author, MG Pittard, has become a significant mentor for me during this process. And the best piece of advice he gave me was to not look back and not dwell on the past.
For my first year after retirement, and even now occasionally, I was having an extremely hard time no longer being this "senior special operations warfighter" for my country. Once it stopped—once that final day of out processing came, and I drove away from Fort Bragg on terminal leave—it was all over…just like that. It felt like the past 20 years had flashed before me. And suddenly I was another veteran out in the world, trying to get along in a country that I love, but whose populace is largely disconnected from the realities of the American warfighter.
I’d prepped myself mentally for the transition, so I thought, and I thought I’d really be ready for it. But I wasn’t.
What advice would you give to other transitioning members of the Air Force?
I really think that what we term “success” is always a combination of hard work, opportunity, and a bit of luck. With that, there are certain things you can affect: Make a detailed plan. Create a 1-year and 5-year vision for yourself. Expect it to change, as all plans will, but have something going before you transition.
Make one aspect of it your dream, and the other your means of financial stability—if you can meld both together, more power to you. Don't fool yourself into thinking you’re going to be one of the ones who transitions just fine with zero mental/emotional, or even financial, struggles. It is an entirely different world, being fully civilian. Accept that you’re going to have some struggles, in all kinds of aspects. And push through.
What has been the most surprising thing about being retired or yournew foundcareer?
The most surprising thing, really, is what you remember when it’s over. I had a hard career in the military in many ways. Although it was fruitful operationally, I probably racked up around 30 LOC/LORs and one Article 15 during my time as an Airman. I often had horrible leadership, and fought with a lot of supervisors, commanders, etc. over the years (though, admittedly, some of my problems were self-propelled).
I write this because I know most reading have had similar experiences, and are going through things like that probably right now. Add to all of this the effects from combat that we all deal with, and our lives can be difficult. But, when it’s all over, none of that matters as much. You tend to remember accomplishments, bonds, successes. The rest of the memories are there, lingering, but are not as important over time if you don’t allow them to be. When it’s over (and it will feel like it just flashed right by in seconds), all of the good and bad experiences you have had can serve you equally.
It is a very true statement that we can choose to let our experiences destroy us or make us better—we truly choose that. Many reading this have been down a road of self-destruction, in one aspect or another, in their life or career at some point - just like I have. Realize that, when you get out, you will never be the same as those who don’t share the experiences you have.
You’re not necessarily “better” than everyone on the outside. But you are quantifiably different. Take the good with the bad—there are positives and negatives in that truth—and make it guide you somewhere positive. When you’re having trouble along the way, in whatever aspect, don’t wallow in self-pity.
Would you do that on an objective getting shot at? No—you’d continue mission, maneuver, coordinate, drop bombs and live another day, while vanquishing your enemy. For people like us, life on the outside can sometimes feel harder than getting shot at by terrorists downrange. Because, out here, we can’t just call in airstrikes to solve all our problems (unfortunately). But we can take what made us successful on the battlefield and training for the battlefield, and morph it into something to help us conquer life on the outside, just the same.