Today, Bob Taylor joins us to raise awareness of veterans’ mental health, spread an optimistic message for those transitioning from military to civilian life, and explain his service to success formula. Bob is the CEO and Founder of Alliant Healthcare and the Author of “From Service To Success: New Mission, New Purpose, and a New Journey to a Great Life.” He served in the US Air Force for 21 years as a B-52 navigator, KC-135 navigator, and an Air Force Academy liaison officer. Bob’s civilian life after service turned quite bumpy after a few years, which led him to develop mental health issues and deprived him and his family of his best version for almost 16 years. In understanding his struggle was the struggle of thousands of veterans, Bob found a new meaning and purpose for his life.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, and I am delighted that we have such a special guest with us. He is a former Major in the United States Air Force and a B-52 Radar Navigator who flew combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. Welcome, Bob Taylor.
Bob Taylor: Thank you, Steve. Thank you for the invite. It’s my honor.
Steve Shallenberger: So, looking forward to having you here and talking about your experience, and especially the book that you’ve written. He’s the author of “From Service to Success: New Mission, New Purpose, and a New Journey to a Great Life,” the CEO of Alliant Enterprises, and founder of the Patriot Promise Foundation, which he started to help drive down the rate of suicides among veterans and to provide a clear path forward as veterans transition into life following their service. So, let’s just jump right into this today, Bob. Tell us about your background, including any turning points in your life that have had a significant impact on you.
Bob Taylor: Sure, well, just the basics: I’m a Midwestern guy, who grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. I went to Michigan State University. Probably the first big turning point in my life was when my father was diagnosed, when I was quite young, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Anyone that knows it’s a really tough disease. It’s terminal; there’s no cure. So, he passed away when I was still in college, 21 years old at the time, and he was only 50. That has had an obviously big impact. A lot of times, people ask me, “Why join the Air Force?” In my senior year at Michigan State, walking to class, I could hear my dad’s voice kind of echo in my mind. He said, “I always wish I would have learned how to fly.” That was a passion that he and I shared. I looked up, and there I was, right in front of the Air Force recruiting station. So, I took a right turn. Nine months later, I was at Officer’s Training School and went on to become a B-52 Navigator. I served in both active duty and reserve duty over the course of about 18 years. When I left active duty, I started a career in medical device manufacturing, through R&D, all the way up until about 21 years ago, I started this company, Alliant Healthcare, and just celebrated our 21st year two months ago. So, it’s been a phenomenal ride, filled with some challenges that we’ll probably discuss a little bit here. But overall, I’d say I’ve been very blessed and fortunate in the way that my life has turned out.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, Bob, we’re honored to have you with us. And thank you for your service, doing your part, and continuing to make a difference in so many lives. It’s just really great to have you with us.
Bob Taylor: Thank you. We’ll probably talk about it in a little bit, but it’s hard to go through some of the challenges I’ve gone through and look back, and then I realize just how many people are struggling. I just felt compelled to want to do something to try and give back and help people get through some of the challenges.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, if you don’t mind, just before we get going, for our listeners: We’re always so grateful to have you join us. This is exactly why we have these podcast series is to join with you in your journey of becoming your best, of gaining new ideas, new perspectives, inspiration, and motivation on ways that you can make a difference. We touch each other’s lives. Bob and I were just visiting about the B-52. We had two sons who attended the Air Force Academy and one who was in ROTC; so that’s three out of our six children who were involved in the Air Force. When we visited the United States Air Force Academy, there was this giant B-52 just parked right there at one of the intersections. I was mentioning to Bob that you can go inside, and it is gigantic. So, what was your experience like in the B-52? Tell us about it.
Bob Taylor: So, I was going through training. The Air Force does a really good job of igniting the fire. When I went through Navigator training, I was very fortunate; I was a distinguished graduate and had the opportunity to choose the aircraft I went into. I chose the B-52 because I really liked the mission and having a crew working together. Shortly after I chose that, we went to an airshow and went up inside a B-52. Like you said, they’re huge, but the crew compartment is not huge. So, we went up in there, and it scared me that I made that choice because it just looked so incredibly old. Like I said, Fred and Barney could have been flying it at one point. But then, when you turn the power on, you see the advanced avionics and all the technology. It turned out to be a great mission for me, and I really did enjoy having those missions, flying with a crew of six people at the time.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great, Bob. Are they continuing to repurpose the B-52?
Bob Taylor: Yes, they’re actually modifying them. The most recent model is the B-52H model, and they’re coming out with a B-52J model, which is re-engined, with all-new radars and avionics. It’s scheduled to be in service for a full 100 years, which is absolutely incredible. I mean, it’s hard for me to tell right now, but it’s been multiple generations—three or four generations of people—that have flown or navigated in a B-52.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, there’s a great message for every single one of us, and what’s happened there with that big aircraft, that’s had such a huge service record—of the repurposing and the redesign—it looks the same from the outside. But it has a completely different capability. And maybe, in a sense, that’s a bit of inspiration for your book, which we’ll talk about right now. But the fact is, if we’re going to become our best, that’s a good example: the B-52. You have people that are helping it become its best, and it still serves a purpose. And that’s what we do, but it takes a reengineering; it takes putting in new software.
Bob Taylor: You can never look at your life as being done. We’re always being repurposed, or being reshaped; adversity is such an important part of our lives, and how we overcome that to become really our full potential.
Steve Shallenberger: I love your message in your book, “From Service to Success.” And it really has an application in so many ways, across the board. I know maybe you’ve intended it for people who have actually served in the military and had some of the challenges in making the transition to success. But as I was just thinking about that, and learning about your book, and going through the overview of it, I think it also could apply to all of us.
Bob Taylor: That’s what I’ve been told by people who have read it. And I really did intend it to go beyond just the veterans. As a parent of Air Force Service members, it would help you understand maybe some of the things that they experience, some of the challenges. I don’t care who you are. What happens when we go into the military, the military takes us from many—many personalities, many goals, many missions—down to one. And it’s very useful for our military mission. But when it comes time to move back into our civilian roles, we go from one mission to many. And there’s not a significant effort to help us with that transition. Some people make it pretty easily; some not so easily. The other thing is, as someone goes through their civilian career, they work, they get promoted; work, get promoted; work, get promoted. And if they ever change careers, it’s usually at a lateral or even maybe a promotion. For the military, you work, get promoted; work, get promoted. And then when you change and you go into the civilian world, you almost have to go all the way back to the beginning. There’s not a real lateral progression, or most people don’t experience a promotion leaving the military. So you have to restart in discovering what your true passion is. Chances are—like your son is an F-16 pilot—not a whole lot of jobs for F-16 pilots in the civilian world. Some can transition to commercial. But even those guys have to—I saw guys starting out at $20,000 a year after they were very successful military people. So it’s a unique situation, moving from the military into the civilian world and repurposing and rediscovering who you really are.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, tell us a bit about why you wrote the book, “From Service to Success.” And tell us about the book, if you don’t mind, and maybe some of the things and insights that you’ve had. And you’ve just started to tell us a little bit of.
Bob Taylor: So for me, the book is kind of based a little bit on my experiences, and some experiences of other veterans, in overcoming adversity and finding our new passion and desires. So for me, when I left active duty—or when we came back from Desert Storm—for some unknown reason, I didn’t see hand-to-hand combat or anything, I started having just terribly violent nightmares. And they lasted for about six months. And just as mysteriously as they started, they went away. But then, 16 years later, they came back again. And they came back with a vengeance, is what I say. So I got to the point where I was actually afraid to go to sleep. So I drank a little to help fall asleep. And when a little didn’t help, a little bit more, and a little bit more. What you realize is, that doesn’t help. And I got into a pretty tough spot with sleep deprivation. So, after 16 years of dealing with that—depression, irritability, and all those other things, I came to the realization that I needed to go get help. So I went to the VA, started seeing a counselor. And as matter of fact, they put me through a sleep study pretty early on. And even when I was sleeping, my legs were jerking 270 times an hour. So, even while I was asleep, I wasn’t resting. So very quickly, though, through the treatments, and I didn’t know that you can kind of be reprogrammed to get rid of nightmares, but it worked. And over the years, I started to get better.
Bob Taylor: So I realized that I wasn’t alone in dealing with those types of challenges. Maybe mine were a little bit more severe, or maybe not as severe as some veterans deal with. But I realized there are other people out there—guys and gals—who are also struggling. So I decided to write “From Service to Success” to make sure that people understand—veterans understand—that their best days are not behind them; their best days are in front of them. So all the things that we accomplish, all the perfection that we experience when we’re doing our missions—that’s not the height of our lives. There’s so much more to live; there’s so much more to achieve. And it’s really when I started to realize that there is more to it, and more potential that we can experience, that’s what I wanted to share in the book. So, as I started to write the book—you asked me to kind of point out some lessons I learned—I did a lot of research because veterans can be kind of tough on other veterans. They’re skeptical; they want an authentic, real story. So I researched my book for about six years. And some of the things I learned were really– I think most people know, 22 veterans die every day from suicide. What you don’t know is about 640 veterans attempt suicide every day; about 1,800 veterans are actually planning their suicide every day. And while 5,500 veterans are forming suicidal ideation. And to me, that’s just unacceptable. And so that was one of the shocking things that I learned. And that the other thing I learned is that veterans that go to the VA for help reduce suicide by 35%. So just by getting into the system, it helps save lives. And that’s one of the messages that I want to deliver: everything we do in the military is as part of a team. And for some strange reason, when people get out, they think they have to solve all their problems on their own. And that’s the opposite of what we need; it’s the opposite of what we should do. We need to talk; we need to be part of a tribe and share all this stuff. So that’s what I want to share with people is, don’t try and go it alone; don’t try and soldier through it. Go out there and find some help; get into the VA; talk to people; make friends with new people. Just because they’re not from the military, you can still learn a lot from other people.
Steve Shallenberger: I’m so glad that you shared this; it’s so helpful. Is it because the veterans just don’t have hope? What are your findings as the primary underlying reasons for this?
Bob Taylor: They feel lost. If you’re a staff sergeant, you know what your role is. If you’re a major, your life is much more predictable. You’re operating at the highest levels of whatever you’ve been asked to do. You can achieve sometimes more in active service than you could ever have imagined because of the specialized training. You’re always part of a team; you’re always part of a bigger mission. So, when people get out of service, they don’t identify that thing that is going to– I call it the “fire in the belly”. What are you going to do that’s going to light that fire in your belly to make you want to get up? And I think a lot of it is finding a way to serve others, finding what is truly your passion. What were you almost born to do? And trying to discover that. So, a lot of it is just being lost in this new life. And even if they get a job—some veterans, they get a job, they get security—that’s what happened with me. I had a really good job; I had a very supportive family. But that didn’t mean the nightmares didn’t come. So, it’s something that you just have to work through and find what your passion is, and find a way to really create a great life.
Steve Shallenberger: So one of the things that you write about is throwing people a lifeline in this transition. I mean, I’m so grateful to have you as a guest because I guess I haven’t seen that clearly described like you have: what it’s like in this circumstance, and all of a sudden, you’re in a different world. And they’re expected to take their skills—which they have, which is one of the great gifts that they’ve been given from service in the military—but now, how do you take that and apply it in a less structured world? And you talk about a new mission—if we’re to use the military language—a new purpose, and a new journey. So, tell us about that. How is that done? And how do you apply it? I love it; you’re spot on. And this is what we talked about in my research. It’s exactly what’s needed. This is what helps people become their best: they have a clear vision of where they’re going that’s inspiring and meaningful. And they have a way to get there. And it talks about how to build strong relationships and accountability and gaining new knowledge. Well, all of these things lead you to a successful journey or getting to a better place. So, tell us about those three things. And what you’ve seen. And any other thing that you’d like to add to that, that helps make this lifeline that you’re talking about that helps in the transition.
Bob Taylor: So, when I grew up, I worked on a farm; I worked on a dairy farm and did some farming. And you don’t just walk out and have a successful crop; you have to till the land, you have to put fertilizer down, you have to prepare, you have to plant the right seeds at the right time. And I think our lives are a lot like that. So, when we get out, we can’t just skip to the great life. There are certain basic things that have to happen to help us along and prepare our soil. And to get us ready. One of the key ingredients that people need to do is they need to start practicing gratitude. And it sounds kind of silly to some people, but being grateful for what you have, and who you’re surrounded by, just by being grateful on purpose, starts to create a mindset where you’re open to better things. You cannot be grateful and miserable at the same time. And if you’re practicing gratitude, that’s a great way to stop yourself from wallowing in whatever is getting you down. So, a rigorous practice of gratitude is one of the things. The other thing is we can’t take our health and well-being for granted. If we let that slip—if our health starts to slip, if we consume too much alcohol, or if we’re smoking—those are just negative influences that are leading us away from what we might be able to accomplish. I’m not making a judgment; I’m not saying if you drink, you’re a bad person, or if you smoke, you’re a bad person. None of that, because I used to drink, and I used to smoke. But those are habits that are leading in the wrong direction. And so, it’s just part of creating a healthy environment for us to live in.
Bob Taylor: And then we have to invest ourselves into learning about ourselves and experiment with things that we’d like. For me, I started doing glassblowing just to see if I liked it, and I did. I go hunting every year. I just had a successful archery outcome a couple of weeks ago out in Montana. So, it’s not just one thing that is going to fulfill us. And we have to start trying things to see what we can do. And now, you mentioned veterans having skills. And I wrote an article called “CEOs and Veterans: Two Ships Passing in the Night” because HR departments are looking for skills: “Have you used computer skills? SAP? Have you done material requisitioning planning?” What kind of skills do you have? And what military people are given, instead of skills, are talents: they’re given leadership and problem-solving. And it’s those talents that any company would want: teamwork, flexibility. Put a military veteran into a situation; they’re going to figure it out. That’s what they do. And they collaborate well. So, veterans are trying to communicate what their skills are; CEOs are looking for skills, but really, they need to be both talking about what talents do you have. So, it’s just this effort: seeking help, seeking companionship, seeking collaboration, and having a purposeful effort to try and discover your best outcome.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you for talking about that. And, also, having gratitude and a thankful heart, and recognizing how talented each one of you, our listeners, how those that are veterans, or even if you’re not a veteran. You have such an enormous potential. But sometimes there’s a voice in our head that says, “Well, you can’t do it,” but you can do it. And I like what Bob is talking about here today: it comes down to our thoughts, our perspective. And, you take all of this experience you have, and then it becomes a mindset that your best is yet to be. And that you have enormous potential and value. But it does require being able to articulate that vision of something that resonates within you of “here’s where I want to go.” And identifying that purpose and then getting with it and putting you on the journey. And there are things that you do. So, I’d like to kind of, as we get towards the end of our session today, you’ve had a lot of experience; you’ve done a lot of different things, both in the military and outside of the military. What are some of the, as you look back, Bob, some of the most important lessons learned that, if you were sitting down with someone that was going through this transition or getting going, you would share with them to help them be successful?
Bob Taylor: So, for me, the very first thing, I think, is one of my life’s biggest regrets is that I waited those 16 years to get help. And what I didn’t realize, as I soldiered through to try and solve my problems on my own, what I didn’t realize is that what I was doing was I was starving my family of the best version of myself. And that’s a regret; I can’t have those 16 years back. And I wish I would have discovered some of this that I’m talking about, and start to apply. And I’ll just share with you: I went through a treatment last February, using MDMA, which is also known as ecstasy, but it was on a clinical trial for PTSD treatment. And it created kind of a new version of myself, where I’ve come to realize just how great a relationship you can have with your spouse and your family. For me, it was a cleansing experience; it was one of forgiveness, one of just deep kind of transformation. And when you can see how good a relationship that you can have with others—how wonderful your life’s experience can be—I just wish that for everyone. That is my one biggest thing is I just wish I would have gone and sought help sooner. I wish I would have started on kind of turning my mental picture around. And I’m still discovering great new experiences, even at this age, and trying to uncover what is even a brighter future.
Steve Shallenberger: I love that; that’s an inspiration. And that is a good lesson and reminder for every single one of us: is that we’re not alone. There are resources out there; we want to jump on those and try things like that and get help. There’s really great help out there. But it’s a creative vision that’s inspiring for you. And I love that you keep learning in your outlook. And I’d like to just ask you this: we’re at the end of our podcast episode already. But I was just thinking of coming back to this message of those who have contemplated suicide or even seriously—that there’s great hope out there; don’t do it. Don’t do it. There are so many blessings; it’s so much greater and happiness to come. And I don’t know what your comment about that.
Bob Taylor: Well, my comment is: when people are at their darkest times, it’s hard to recognize; it’s hard to realize that there are people that care deeply for you—for what happens to you. I’ve been just overwhelmed, as I’ve gotten into this kind of veteran community, to discover that people that have never served a moment in the military—and to find out just how dedicated they are to helping veterans and how much they care for people who are struggling. And the phrase of the day is: you are not alone. It is darkest before it’s lightest. And if I could reach out to anyone and just say, “reach out,” I have an article called “Make a Friend, Save a Vet.” You never know where someone is. If you find a vet, thanking them for their services is a kind thing to say. But befriend them; find a way to have a conversation with them. Maybe schedule a weekly or every other week coffee or lunch. Just reach out and listen to someone. So, on the veteran side, know you’re not alone. And on the civilian side, reach out and touch someone.
Steve Shallenberger: Wonderful. So, Bob, how can people find out about what you’re doing?
Bob Taylor: So, a few years ago, I formed the Patriot Promise Foundation. It’s a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), and we’re dedicated to getting resources in the hands of veterans. Right now, I’m targeting 100,000 veterans. We’ve resourced about 3,000 veterans so far. And so, people can go to that website, patriotpromise.org. They can order a book, “From Service to Success,” for themselves and donate for other veterans. And then we formed a partnership program where people can kind of walk alongside of us as we help veterans.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. Well, Bob, it’s been a delight having you on the show today. We wish you the best in all that you’re doing, and congratulations on so many things that you’ve done.
Bob Taylor: Thanks, Steve. And I wish you all the best, and good things for your audience as well.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. And to all of our listeners, it’s been a privilege to have you join us. We’re honored. And we wish you the very best as you’re making a difference in the world every single day. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off.
CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader
CEO & Founder of Alliant Healthcare Products, Author