If you could give veterans a voice and impact their lives directly through music, how would you do it?
For former Navy combat medic George “Mik” Todd, 32, his technique not only involves using hip-hop as "combat medicine" for personal healing and restoration, but to also inform others about the ups and downs that veterans face upon transitioning into civilian life.
“What makes it so different is that I talk about high level violence and trauma, despair, heartaches, addiction, redemption and all of these topics that you may find in hip-hop, but it’s coming from a warfighter’s perspective,” said Todd, who is also known by his alter ego, Doc Todd. “Here’s a hip-hop artist who’s drawing the correlations between war and some of those things. I think that’s what so unique about my music – the type of subject matters that I can touch on because of my war experience and the way that it translates into the nucleus of our hip-hop culture.”
Having worked different jobs in the restaurant and financial management industry, the Tennessee native wanted more out of life. So Todd took a leap of faith and pursued music full-time with one simple mission – to show veterans that they’re not alone in an effort to save lives.
“The focus of my music is to save and impact the lives of our nation’s heroes and other individuals who are dealing with mental health issues across the board, whether they are in the military or not,” he said.
As a follow-up to an album he released in 2009 about his emotions leading up to deployment, Todd created Combat Medicine album by taking a no-holds-barred look into the issues that veterans face upon transitioning from the military.
“The album is having a dramatic impact on people’s lives,” Todd said about Combat Medicine which was released in June. “I’ve got people reaching out to me all the time with heartfelt letters, notes, emails and messages saying that the album is giving them a voice and it’s helping them stand back up.”
Before pursuing his music project, Todd spent a majority of his military career serving as a hospital corpsman with the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. In May 2009, his unit deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand province as part of Operation Khanjar, the largest U.S. led offensive under former President Barack Obama’s regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its allies in an effort to stabilize Afghanistan.
Todd endured a lot of hardships during the operation, the biggest being the loss of 14 Marines killed in action including his close friend and roommate, 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Charles Seth Sharp. Several more members from his unit have since died from suicide or substance abuse upon returning home from war.
“I’ve had my share of challenges with addiction. Getting all of these emotions out and taking the skeletons out of the closet can be a painful experience,” Todd said. “The fact that you’re doing something so great (by serving your country) but your bank account doesn’t reflect that, the stress it creates was unbelievable and had me fighting for my life. I had to be cognizant of my drinking and where I was looking for comfort when I wasn’t at my best.”
Dealing with anxiety, drugs, alcohol abuse, depression and survivor’s guilt was a real struggle for Todd. No longer wanting to suffer in silence, he needed an outlet to release the pain of losing friends and fellow servicemembers to suicide.
The silver lining came when Todd realized that he could use music to accomplish two goals: speak directly to veterans while focusing on self-improvement and meaningful growth.
“Making music and what it is doing for the guys around me, and for myself, has just become so clear. It’s like I can’t be doing anything else. I’ve got to be doing this. Somebody needs to be doing this,” he said. “Now, the mission has grown so much that I’ve got all of these other veteran artists contacting and reaching out to me, wanting to do music. I think it’s unbelievably cool.”
Todd said hip-hop is about more than just catchy rhymes and lyrics. Rather, it’s about transforming real-life experiences into melodic expressions that help heal and empower veterans to get back on their feet.
“On a personal note, the song that touches me the most is 'I Disappear.' It’s about just feeling like you’re literally a dead man walking. All these feelings of pain, shame, inadequacy, regret and the other hard things that someone may go through as part of their story,” Todd said. “It’s by far the most personal song on my record outside of 'Driving,' which is about me meeting my wife and my great relationship with her. It’s not as heavy so it gives others a sense that there’s hope and light at the end of tunnel.
“My favorite performance on the record is 'PTSD.' I felt great about it because in order to be able to touch everybody who’s experienced it on varying levels, I had to go to some places artistically that I’ve never been before. I love that about it.”
For Todd, saving veterans’ lives begins with a listening ear especially from those who have been there and done that. No matter what your story is or what you went through, he said Combat Medicine offers something for everyone.
“In three words, I would say Combat Medicine is purposeful and spiritual (with a focus on) warfare. It’s passionate, it’s transparent, it’s unfiltered, it’s real and it’s authentic,” Todd said. “Having a relationship with God is unbelievably important. You can start talking to God right now where you are. Whatever it is that you believe in, try to take a small step in that direction every day and take charge of your life spiritually and mentally. Once you do that, you’ll see your life begin to change like mine did.”
Listen to the Combat Medicine album on Doc Todd's website at www.therealdoctodd.com/music.