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Afghanistan veteran wants to empower others with hip-hop 'Combat Medicine'

Doc Todd took an eight-year break from music after his deployment to Afghanistan, while he struggled with anxiety and other mental health disorders. In June, he released the album "Combat Medicine," which he hopes will help other veterans who are facing challenges with the transition from military service.

PHOTO BY ZOOMWORKS PHOTOGRAPHY, COURTESY OF DOC TODD

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — George “Mik” Todd dreamed of being a hip-hip artist before he joined the military. But after a difficult deployment in Afghanistan in 2009, the Navy corpsman spent eight years battling his demons to get back into music. Now, with a new album, he’s using his experiences to empower others.

Todd, 32, served with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during Operation Khanjar, a U.S.-led offensive in Taliban-held Helmand province. He and the Marines he served alongside saw heavy combat. Todd had friends who were wounded, and his roommate, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Charles Seth Sharp, was the first Marine killed in the offensive.

More than a month later, after Todd responded to a roadside bomb that killed two other Marines, he fell ill with pneumonia, and his time in Afghanistan ended.

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He was medevaced to Germany, and then back to the United States. Todd served four more years until he was honorably discharged in 2013.

In the years after his deployment, he struggled.

He felt isolated from his battle buddies. Todd said he thought he lost their respect for leaving combat because of an illness.

He was drinking heavily and was treated for an anxiety disorder and other mental health problems. He was never officially diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder but dealt with depression, he said.

“You come home feeling like you failed. I know how Marines are,” Todd said.

“I had obsessed myself thinking about the guys who may be talking shit.”

In the eight years after his deployment, several members of Todd’s company committed suicide. He was working in wealth management when a client died, and Todd went to Philadelphia for the funeral.

Something about the moment — being at a funeral, the city itself — inspired Todd to get back into music.

“Something about it reminded me of who I was, and I was living a life not in step with who I was meant to be,” Todd said. “I was sick of being quiet.”

Todd got to work on a new album.

Known as Doc Todd, he is now representing veterans in the hip-hop industry — and he’s speaking directly to them.

His album, “Combat Medicine,” released June 21, focuses on issues that veterans face as they transition out of military service. His sometimes explicit songs address PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse and the loss of friends and fellow servicemembers to suicide.

In the song “Not Alone,” he urges veterans to “stand back up” and participate in their own recovery. The song references a former estimate that about 22 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide. Newer Department of Veterans Affairs data show it’s 20 a day.

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The song is an attempt to empower veterans and relay a message.

“I think the overwhelming narrative is, ‘You’re broken,’ ” he said. “I don’t think enough people are saying, ‘You’re powerful, you’re capable of independence, but you need help.’ If you feel incapable of standing up, you’re probably never going to stand up.”

Zach Ludwig, a Marine Corps veteran who served with Todd, said the album, especially “Not Alone,” resonated with him.

“It gave me chills. He really gets into what it’s like going through not just the battles overseas but what happens when the battle ends and you come home,” Ludwig said. “This is still life-or-death out here.”

Ludwig, 28, said he had a difficult transition out of military service and struggles with PTSD.

“To be coddled is not the way to approach a veteran after he’s been through this experience,” he said. “Not feeling sorry for yourself, moving forward as a unit out of uniform and being there for each other is the preferred path. We have to stick together.”

In the song “AWGIU,” an acronym for “all we got is us,” Todd conveys the feeling of servicemembers and veterans being misunderstood by the larger community.

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Todd details some of his life in the album, too. In “Driving,” he describes the day he met his wife, Abigail, at an Atlanta bar. Todd and some fellow servicemembers drove from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Atlanta, risking getting caught out of bounds on a weekend break, and went into a place where Abigail happened to be.

Todd, Abigail and their two daughters now live in Atlanta. Todd is planning a tour for “Combat Medicine,” though he still has to work out the details.

He’s looking to publish a book with the same title, and he wants to sign a record deal. Todd is looking to the veteran community for support.

He wants to continue to focus on messages geared toward veterans and active-duty servicemembers. But he believes those concepts also apply to a wider audience.

“There are some things I think cross the boundaries of veteran and nonveteran because they’re just things people deal with,” Todd said. “Addiction, redemption, overcoming hard circumstances and austere conditions, having your past empower you instead of tear you down — these are all human experiences.”

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Hip-hop artist George "Mik" Todd, who goes by the name Doc Todd, was part of the Fleet Marine Force and served as a corpsman in 2009 during a U.S.-led offensive in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DOC TODD

“Eventually, my drinking
It got out of control
There in darkness, I roamed
Struggling to find home
See, suddenly death didn’t
Feel so alone
22-a-day, destination unknown
It could’ve been avoided
If you picked up the phone.”
- "Not Alone"

“When the bullets fly
Tracer rounds fill the sky
You know, we wonder why
Sometimes our friends must die
When things get rough and tough
It’s in God we trust
But at the end of the day,
All we got is us.”
- "AWGIU"

Doc Todd’s top 5 most influential artists

Doc Todd was born and raised in Memphis and said he was heavily influenced by the city’s rap scene, including artists such as Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG and Tommy Wright III. Other musicians also have been a source of influence and inspiration.

  • Marcus Mumford
    MARCUS MUMFORD / Singer, Mumford and Sons

    “I’m influenced by a lot of stuff that’s not hip-hop, and this is one of my favorite groups. I don’t copy him stylistically or melodically, but the way he tells stories, evokes emotion and is connected to his words is a huge inspiration to me.”

  • Jackson Browne
    JACKSON BROWNE / Singer, Songwriter

    “This is another person whose simplicity and songwriting and being connected to his words has been a huge influence on me from a writing perspective. It’s just the way he tells stories.”

  • Eminem
    EMINEM / Rapper

    “The song ‘When I’m Gone’ from Eminem’s album Encore defined such a large portion of my life. I thought it was him at the top of his craft, in his prime. He wasn’t an angry teenager anymore, and all of his skills, experience, ability and struggles associated with family life and career all culminated at once for an emotional explosion of anxiety, depression and fear. It’s an unbelievably heartfelt song, and one of the best moments in hip-hop, ever.”

  • J.Cole
    J. COLE / Rapper

    "His album 2014 Forest Hills Drive is a masterpiece. The quality of his character and his trying to have an impact on the world, while not sacrificing his toughness – I respect a lot."

  • Kaney West
    KANYE WEST / Media mogul

    "'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' is one of the most theatrical, artistic hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard in my life. There was a time in my life I almost stepped away because I felt hip-hop wasn’t artistic anymore – wasn’t music anymore. That album made me believe hip-hop was music again. It made me see what’s possible."

Doc Todd’s top 5 most influential artists:

Todd was born and raised in Memphis and says he was heavily influenced by the city’s rap scene, including artists like Three 6 Mafia, 8Ball & MJG and Tommy Wright III, as well as others who didn’t achieve commercial success. But here, Todd explains how other musicians – hip-hop and otherwise – have been a source of influence and inspiration.


Marcus Mumford
MARCUS MUMFORD / Singer, Mumford and Sons

“I’m influenced by a lot of stuff that’s not hip-hop, and this is one of my favorite groups. I don’t copy him stylistically or melodically, but the way he tells stories, evokes emotion and is connected to his words is a huge inspiration to me.”


Jackson Browne
JACKSON BROWNE / Singer, Songwriter

“I’m influenced by a lot of stuff that’s not hip-hop, and this is one of my favorite groups. I don’t copy him stylistically or melodically, but the way he tells stories, evokes emotion and is connected to his words is a huge inspiration to me.”


Eminem
EMINEM / Rapper

“The song ‘When I’m Gone’ from Eminem’s album Encore defined such a large portion of my life. I thought it was him at the top of his craft, in his prime. He wasn’t an angry teenager anymore, and all of his skills, experience, ability and struggles associated with family life and career all culminated at once for an emotional explosion of anxiety, depression and fear. It’s an unbelievably heartfelt song, and one of the best moments in hip-hop, ever.”


J. Cole
J. COLE / Rapper

"His album '2014 Forest Hills Drive' is a masterpiece. The quality of his character and his trying to have an impact on the world, while not sacrificing his toughness – I respect a lot."


Kanye West
KANYE WEST / Media mogul

"'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' is one of the most theatrical, artistic hip-hop albums I’ve ever heard in my life. There was a time in my life I almost stepped away because I felt hip-hop wasn’t artistic anymore – wasn’t music anymore. That album made me believe hip-hop was music again. It made me see what’s possible."


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