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Ex-SEAL writes best seller

Howard Wasdin of South Ga. publishes memoirs, sells movie rights to Vin Diesel

POSTED: June 13, 2011 7:00 a.m.
Christie Schroeder/

Dr. Howard Wasdin stands in front of his medals, awards and a magazine cover that hang on the wall in the waiting room of his Absolute Precision Chiropractic office in Jesup.

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Howard E. Wasdin had a rough and, at times, painful childhood in South Georgia, but he used those experiences as motivation later in life.

He had a difficult time paying for college, so he enlisted in the Navy and quickly became a top sniper for the elite SEAL Team Six. The heroic SEAL dealt with depression after being shot during the Battle of Mogadishu, but chiropractic care led to relief both physically and professionally.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to write and publish his memoirs, Wasdin released a New York Times best seller called “SEAL Team Six,” just days after the same elite troops found and killed Osama bin Laden. He already has sold the movie rights, and Vin Diesel will play the starring role.

Wasdin has worked hard to overcome adversity his entire life, but every time he conquers obstacles, he seems to be in a better place than he was before.

His memoirs, which rose to No. 4 on the New York Times Best Sellers list for nonfiction hardcovers, follow the former Navy SEAL’s life from childhood through the opening of his chiropractic business in Jesup. He faced his fair share of obstacles along the way.

When Wasdin was a young boy growing up in South Georgia, he suffered from his stepfather’s physical abuse. He worked hard in the fields and tried to do everything asked of him to avoid further provoking his stepfather. Wasdin’s only saving grace was that he learned how to endure the pain, and later in life, he was able to channel that pain and use it as motivation.

“After so much, it got to the point that when the 250-pound man’s belt cut across my lower back, butt and legs, I wasn’t afraid anymore,” Wasdin wrote. “‘Calm down. Stop shaking,’ he would tell himself. ‘It isn’t going to make it any better or any worse. Just take it.’ I could literally lie there on the bed, close down and block out the pain.”

After high school, Wasdin went on to attend college, but eventually he enlisted in the Navy to help support himself financially. After excelling in the Navy, Wasdin wanted more. He went through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, enduring “Hell Week” and overcoming other seemingly impossible tasks that pushed him mentally and physically.

Still, that wasn’t enough for Wasdin. He wanted more. He successfully went through Green Team training to become a member of the elite SEAL Team Six, considered a Tier-One Special Operations Force, then later went to sniper school to further expand his skills.

Drawing on experiences from previous missions and operations, including Desert Storm, Wasdin and three other SEAL Team Six teammates deployed to Somalia in 1993 with other Special Operations Forces. Wasdin and his teammates spent weeks gathering information to try to take down Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

In the Battle of Mogadishu, also depicted in Mark Bowden’s book, “Black Hawk Down,” intense fighting broke out between United States forces and the local militia and citizens. Wasdin was shot three times in his right leg and barely survived. The petty officer was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart for his heroic actions.

He wrote about the pain he endured while being transported from Somalia to a hospital at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany: “With a bone injury, the body can’t compensate. My pale body shook, and sweat poured out of me as I clenched my teeth, trying to will the pain not to consume me. … It was the same principle I used when I was getting my (behind) beat as a child: remove myself from the pain and not become physically involved.”

Later, Wasdin showed his compassionate side at the hospital by switching IVs and giving his medicine to an Army Ranger beside him who was about to pass out from pain.

“We were just in an intense firefight,” Wasdin explained to a full-bird colonel who walked in after a nurse discovered what happened. “He was hurtin’. I made him quit hurtin’. Shoot me if you want to.”

After returning stateside, Wasdin spent time rehabbing his leg at Fort Stewart.

“It was great (at Fort Stewart),” Wasdin recalled. “This was 1993, early 1994, and we weren’t in combat, so I was literally probably the only combat soldier in the hospital. So every time I went in there, man, it was like an entourage.

“Those (hospital workers) are great,” he continued. “And I’m talking about treating me good, state-of-the-art equipment, and they literally saved my life. It was great.”

After Wasdin finished his rehab, he returned to SEAL life, but he found he couldn’t quite keep up and enjoy it the way he used to.

He medically retired from the Navy in 1995. Dealing with severe pain on a daily basis and missing the camaraderie that SEAL life provided, he fell into a deep state of depression. 

He credits the people of South Georgia for helping him recover.

“When I came back from Somalia, the way I was received by the people in this area, the support — especially at a time when you need it at your darkest time — is what really probably saved my life and motivated me to keep trying and keep going,” Wasdin said. “This is my part of the world right here.

No longer a SEAL and looking for a way to support himself and his son, Wasdin took on a variety of jobs, trying his hand as a police officer and car salesman. He also trained the U.S. Security Team for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Another job Wasdin discussed in his book was his “assignment to protect Ambassador to the Philippines John Negroponte, who had received some death threats.”

One day, Wasdin had to check out a chiropractor’s office ahead of the ambassador’s appointment. Later, Negroponte told him, “I have a shoulder injury from tennis, and if (the chiropractor) doesn’t realign my spine, I’m in pain.”

In his book, Wasdin shared his thought process at the time: “I was skeptical about chiropractors and didn’t think they would be effective in easing the constant pain I had in my leg and neck, but I filed our conversation in the back of my mind anyway.”

In the meantime, after returning home from his assignment in the Philippines, Wasdin continued to struggle with his pain, caused partially by the way he altered his gait after he was shot.

“A friend suggested I go to a chiropractor,” Wasdin said on his website, www.ap-chiro.com. “Being stubborn, I resisted, but the pain increased and I finally agreed to go. After a few chiropractic adjustments, I had no neck pain and could sleep through the night.”

Meanwhile, Wasdin had begun writing his initial drafts of his memoirs in 1994, but the project fizzled out a few different times.

“(I was) just trying to make a living as a single father just to support my son and me, and who’s got time for writing?” Wasdin said. “When you’re trying to put biscuits on the table, you don’t have time to do what I consider recreational stuff like that. So it was a dead project for a long time.”

The year 2001 was a turning point for Wasdin, and not just because of the Sept. 11 attacks. This was around the time he met his wife, Debbie, whom he credits with helping him turn his life around. He told the Courier that in a recent interview for Italian television, the journalist was fascinated by Debbie’s role in that process.

“Let’s look at the woman behind the man who picked him up when he was living with a state of depression, dusted him off, sent him back to school, made him finish his education, became a doctor, then make him finish his book he’s been working on since 1994. … She’s way more noteworthy than I am,” Wasdin said of his wife.

In his book, Wasdin described how he got the final push he needed to go back to school and get his degree.

 “You can go the rest of your life being miserable — never feeling fulfilled, never finding a job you really like again — or you can just do this,” his wife told him. “The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done, and you’ll be happy with your occupation again. If you don’t, you’ll look back after four years and say ‘If I’d gone to school, I’d be finished by now.’”

His response: “I married the right woman.”

He received his Bachelor of Science in biology in 2007 from Life University in Marietta and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the same school in 2009, graduating with cum laude honors both times and also receiving a Clinical Excellence Award.

Wasdin opened the doors of his own clinic in Jesup, Absolute Precision Chiropractic, in 2010.

In his book, he wrote about a few of his patients whose symptoms and pain decreased significantly after receiving chiropractic treatment.

“Success stories like this let me know I made the right decision,” Wasdin said. “I truly feel that this is the path God intended for me when he spared my life in Somalia.”

Meanwhile, the doctor was seeing 150-170 patients a week and still found time to keep writing. He said a Facebook page that his wife set up reunited him with a former Navy buddy, Stephen Templin, who co-authored Wasdin’s memoirs.

One agent sent back the manuscript and said he would give it a second read only if Wasdin worked with a writer the agent would provide.

“So we were just like ‘How can we be this far off when we thought this was pretty darn good,” Wasdin said. “But we came to find that what he was trying to do was get this other writer in there to smooth it out just so they could get a larger percent (of the profit).”

When Wasdin and Templin met with another agent, he told them the book was ready for edit. 

“That was on a Monday,” Wasdin said. “By Thursday, we had two publishing houses in a bidding war.”

Initially, they planned to release the book in February, then later decided a mid-May release date would be better.

“Then our boys went in and kicked in the door May 1,” Wasdin said of SEAL Team Six, which killed bin Laden at the beginning of May. “So all of a sudden May 14 becomes May 10. So talk about timing, huh.

“That’s my other advice to anyone who’s going to write a book. Time it just right. Have world events correspond with the release of your book,” Wasdin joked.

He talked about how several people questioned the timing of the book’s release and accused him of having advance notice.

“Do you realize what you’re saying?” Wasdin said, dismissing the conspiracy theorists. “That means I would have had to have the national security advisor, Department of Defense, President Obama himself, all agree to … say ‘We’re going to do this because your book’s coming out.’”

Wasdin said he had mixed feelings when he found out SEAL Team Six had killed bin Laden.

“The people who shot me and killed my friends were trained and supported and supplied by al Qaeda. So to find out that he was dead, part of me was really, really happy, and then part of me was like, ‘I really can’t allow myself to be happy until I found out nobody (from the American forces) was killed or wounded,’” Wasdin said.

He said he wrote the book for two reasons: to show people that they can overcome adversity at any age and to tell the American people of the military’s “sacrifice, dedication and drive.”

He said the writing process was very therapeutic for him, just as his wife predicted it would be.

“When I finished that book, it was like someone reached here,” Wasdin said, pointing to his head and shoulders, “and took a big load off. (I was able to) inhale all the way again for the first time since before I got shot.”

He also revealed he has sold the book’s movie rights to actor Vin Diesel, who founded One Race Productions.

“Vin Diesel, who never has met his biological father, was raised by a stepdad. He read the book and he also said it resonated with him so much that to make sure he played my part, he bought the book out of his own pocket, which I hear is almost unheard of,” Wasdin said. “And the funny thing is, Vin, at the time he’ll be doing this movie, will be the exact age I was when I found my biological father.”

Wasdin said they had an impressive list of people who were bidding for the movie rights, including Brad Pitt.

“You know, I think he’s too much of a pretty boy to play me,” Wasdin joked.

He also joked that he started working out again to try to get back in shape so people don’t compare him to Vin Diesel as the “before” and “after.”

Wasdin said he will work on the film as a consultant and eventually will fly out to Hollywood.

“I guess Vin needs to hang around me and get in character — like he’s not cool enough — he’s going to hang around me.”

As if Wasdin doesn’t already have enough on his to-do list, he’s also managing to find time to write his second book, a fiction novel about the Navy SEALs. He said he’s already halfway through the writing process and predicted the release date to be around a year and a half from now.

“Now mix in there all the radio, TV and print interviews,” said Wasdin, who also is a pilot, “and my flying that I have to keep up for my instrument rating (to be able to fly in meteorological conditions) and … any time that’s left, I get to relax.”

Surely Wasdin will face more adversity in the future, like when he moves his daughter into her dormitory at Armstrong Atlantic State University in the fall, which he said he’s in denial about like most parents are when their kids go off to school.

However, judging by his track record of overcoming obstacles and coming out on top, he probably will do just fine.

 

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