CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Wounded Warrior Battalion - West recently hosted guest speaker Herschel Walker, a Heisman Trophy winner and advocate for mental health issues.
The event was coordinated by the unit’s Religious Ministry Team for the staff and recovering service members in an effort to foster resiliency through Walker’s speech on overcoming obstacles in his life.
Walker, a native of Wrightsville, Georgia, began his career playing college football for the University of Georgia, earning All-American honors three times before winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982. He then started his professional career playing for the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, before he was drafted to the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League.
Throughout his professional career with the NFL, he played for the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants. In 1999 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
During his time playing professional football he began to realize something was wrong.
He was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder in Oct. 2011. The disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, is characterized by identity fragmentation and failure to integrate various aspects of identity, memory, and consciousness into a single self.
His mother taught him to be strong and not use his problems as excuses. After his diagnosis he was set on making a difference and wanted to change the stigma that was placed on mental illness.
“Mental health is something that a lot of people run from when they hear it,” he said. “I’m here trying to show them that it’s just a word. It’s people that have challenges they can overcome, but you have to have confidence in them, and they need to have confidence in themselves.”
Walker went through treatment programs to learn about ways to combat his disorder, and show others who deal with similar mental health issues that a positive outcome can be reached.
Many of the Marines in attendance deal with similar issues every day. Corporal Matthew Williams, a motor transport mechanic has been coping with anxiety and post-traumatic stress, gained useful insight from Walker’s speech.
“It was a really good example of what perseverance, physical and mental drive can accomplish, even in the face of adversity,” said Williams. “It feels better to see things in a different light. It makes it more relatable on a personal level.”
After he was done speaking, Walker refused to let the attendees clap for him.
“You are all true warriors,” Walker said. “You are true heroes. Because of that, you can overcome. When things get tough, know that I’m here to support you, and know that there are people here to help you but you have to love yourself. We all go through challenges, but we can beat those challenges. Keep standing up when you get knocked down.”
There was an overwhelming show of appreciation for Walker’s message of encouragement. He stayed to sign autographs and take pictures with the long line of military and civilian personnel.
“Although Mr. Walker is a football legend, people were amazed at how relatable his experiences were on the topic of resiliency and facing and overcoming obstacles,” said Paul Swanson, a command advisor. “Even participants who may not be familiar with his career, due to not being old enough to witness it or they don’t follow sports, still had glowing remarks of his presentation.”
“I just want to say thank you to all of the service men and women present,” Walker said. “They’re the reason we have the greatest country in the world.”