Spotlight: Dan Colburn, FRC Coach

The Spotlight series highlights individuals in first responder life who have felt an impact, made an impact, and shared an impact with others. We need to share our stories to know we’re not alone and we can do this… together!

Caroline: It’s Spotlight time again and this month we have Dan Colburn, one of our coaches here at First Responder Coaching. Dan is from a military family and works in various roles helping veterans. He believes in helping people feel good about themselves and is a strong advocate for coaching. Today, we’ll highlight some of Dan’s work and talk about the benefits of coaching and how it can help a person gain new perspective. We’ll also talk about some of the volunteer work Dan does especially for veterans.

Dan, thank you for coming on. How are you?

Dan: I’m good.

Caroline: Let’s talk a little bit, you said you come from a military family. Who do you have in your family?

Dan: My dad is a Vietnam veteran. So, he told me about his time in the Navy. And then, he told me about how Vietnam veterans came home and they were so disrespected. I began to help him, help the Vietnam veterans, to make a military welcome home nicer and more respectful. We do so much for Gold Star Families, families that have lost a child to war, active duty in war. So, I’m hoping that by being an FRC coach, I can expand to helping Gold Star families deal with the heartbreak of losing a loved one.

Caroline: That’s awesome. That’s so great to have you step up from your experience in your family with poor veteran reception. And you’re taking steps to do a whole new approach to welcoming home veterans so that they feel loved and respected and honored as they should. Talk about some of the volunteer work you do. I know that you volunteer for New England Run for the Fallen. Talk about that? How long have you been with them?

Dan: So, I’ve been a volunteer for the New England Run for the Fallen for three years. How I got involved is one of my friends down in Massachusetts told me that he has an Honor and Remember chapter and they’re looking for volunteers. So, I contacted the state director and said, “Hey, I heard that you’re looking for help. How can I help?” So, he told me.

This Saturday, on February 11th, I’ll become the Assistant State Director for Honor and Remember. I’ll be helping Gold Star families in New Hampshire honor New England fallen soldiers with an Honor and Remember flag.

And I am also with an organization, the Honor Project. We highlight veteran and first responder suicides with a flag display and a banner that says how many veterans a day commit suicide, how many first responders a day commit suicide. It’s a teachable moment for the community to stop and look at all those flags.

So, how I got linked with FRC is that I met with Keith Hanks. He said that I should be a coach and so here I am.

Caroline: That’s awesome. You had just recently finished your coach certification course, correct.

Dan: Yes.

Caroline: You are a newly certified coach with FRC. 

Dan: I am.

Caroline: That’s awesome. I’m sure that will be wonderful for all those that you get a chance to help. Now, you also with the Fire Rescue and EMS Association of Fitzwilliam in New Hampshire where you are.

Dan: Yes.

Caroline: Talk about your role there and what you’re doing with them.

Dan: So, I’m the vice president of the Fire Rescue and EMS Association of Fitzwilliam. We, as an organization, do a lot of fundraising. We hold monthly meetings; it’s typically the last Wednesday of each month at the Fitzwilliam train depot at 7pm. And we go over what’s going on in the association and also what goes on in the fire department.

The association tries to pay for things the fire department might need, like equipment for the trucks or equipment for the firefighters and EMS crew. And we also focus on community education on fire rescue. We might pay for a CPR course for the town, the community, to get CPR trained. We focus on fire prevention with the local schools. That’s basically what we do.

Caroline: That’s great. You have a lot of involvement between all those organizations. I know that you have your hands in a lot of pots helping out in the community.

Dan: Yeah.

Caroline: You did some fundraising a couple months ago selling wreaths and Christmas trees, correct?

Dan: Yes.

Caroline: That was great too. You also did a walk/run event with Tori and Jen.

Dan: Yeah, the 5K run/walk at Clear Path for Veterans.

Caroline: Yes, that’s right.

Dan: All that helped veterans in need in north central Mass.

Caroline: That’s so good. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about coaching. You got into coaching, you said, because Keith introduced you to coaching. Talk about your experience. What are your thoughts on coaching and how can it make an impact in this kind of work?

Dan: I feel like coaching will help a client without us being a therapist or psychologist. Coaching can help point a client in the right direction to what’s going on. Like, is there something they might want to talk about? We make them really think. Do they have the resources in their area where they can get help? Right now, do they have the resources in their area to achieve what it is they want?

Coaching is a way of having people have someone to talk to. They don’t want a therapist. They don’t want a psychologist. But they want someone to listen to them. I feel like that’s what I want to achieve as a coach, just being with them and having that support they need.

Caroline: Yeah, there’s a lot of stigma, unfortunately, around mental health care. Hopefully, coaching can kind of bridge that gap and help people to step out of that mindset. Many people think seeking mental health care means there’s something wrong with them. Coaching is that middle ground where you’re not going to see a therapist, a psychiatrist, or anything like that. You’re going to talk to somebody and the modality is more about finding the answers inside of yourself. You talked about that. You talked about finding the resources.

Now, when we go through our coaching classes, we get coached as well and we do some coaching in our classes. What was your experience like? Did you have a good “aha” moment in that regard? 

Dan: I had a lot of, “Oh, I should do this,” or, “Oh, I should do that.” There were a lot of times when I get in that moment of being stuck. [Coaching led to me] finding how to work around that being stuck moment. And then there were times when I was in class and felt so stupid. My teacher, Kathy, was able to [help me] focus on my needs from where I got stuck and guide me through that so I came out of that moment of not knowing what to do. She really helped out.

Caroline: Kathy’s wonderful!

Dan: Yes.

Caroline: That is something that I think a lot of people can relate to. We all get stuck. We all feel like we can’t do something. And we feel dumb sometimes. It just takes somebody to say, “Keep looking at how you get around this obstacle. Is there another way to look at it?” Coaching is just great for that. It helps us change our perspective and all of a sudden we’re not stuck anymore.

I think that’s something that a lot of first responders feel. They’re just stuck in their position and they just deal with it. It’s great to see your coaching partner realize those moments. They see that, “Oh, I don’t have to do it this way. I don’t have to be stuck and deal with it. I can do something.”

Do you have anything coming up as far as all your volunteer and community involvement?

Dan: Yes, on March 3rd at 8pm in Chicopee, Mass, at the Knights of Columbus Hall, we are hosting a comedy show and it’s $22 a person. All the proceeds go to the Run for the Fallen. And it hopefully fulfills flag requests. There will also be a 50/50 raffle and raffle prizes. So, it’s going to be a good night. It’s going from eight to ten.

Caroline: Nice. It seems like you always have something coming up so I figured if I asked, you’d have something to tell me about. You have a lot of involvement and it’s great. Now I know you have just graduated from your coaching course. Now that you’re officially a coach, what are your hopes for your community and for first responders and anyone that you get to coach?

Dan: My hope is to let them vent, let them talk it out, and hopefully make them feel more at ease and not feel so stressed out. We all feel stressed out in daily life so having that someone [to talk to] will eventually relieve some of that stress. [They wonder] “Can I do that? Can I get through my days without having thoughts of ending it?” You know, so, my hope is to make an impact on other people’s lives.

Caroline: I think that’s great. I know that your dad was a Vietnam vet. When did he come home to have that experience that, unfortunately, so many did that he wasn’t welcome and it wasn’t a warm homecoming.

Dan: Yes. It was in the 1970s. Now, they say that the Vietnam veterans are what made the country look at their soldiers. It’s the Vietnam vets that changed everything. Now you see on Facebook soldiers’ homecoming with crowds clapping and tears of happiness. That’s what you want now. I wish those Vietnam veterans had that, but they were spit on and called baby-killers. It’s so disrespectful after all they’d been through. 

Caroline: I think you’re right because obviously there is some terrible trauma from all the wars. But I think that the type of warfare and the volume of vets coming home from Vietnam was maybe a more visible-to-the-public instance as far as seeing how detrimental it is to treat our veterans so horribly. And thank God that there’s been so many changes since then. I think there’s more work to do of course, but you’re out there doing that and there’s lots of organizations out there doing that and I think it’s great.

Do you have any other hopes for our veterans and the services that the public and the government and everyone can provide for them eventually?

Dan: I do wish the VA would offer more for veterans. The number of veterans that commit suicide every day now is I think up to 44. It has doubled since last year. Last year was at about 26; now it’s at 44. And there’s not much out there for veterans with PTSD. And even with first responders, you’ve got 5 first responders a day that commit suicide. That’s how many a month? It’s ridiculous.

You’ve got one active-duty soldier a day that commits suicide. I don’t know if that doubled but it’s ridiculous that they feel they cannot get the help. And it’s ridiculous that the VA and government don’t help them for all that they’ve done for this country and for the community. So, it’s my hope to make a difference and change how we all see suicide.

Caroline: Absolutely. One is too many, but to have that number go to 44 a day just in veterans… It’s atrocious as a society; we should be very ashamed of ourselves. I do hope that our public work we do in our various little corners of the country helps to impact that and push for change in the way the government handles it, the way the VA handles it, even how general public healthcare handles it. There’s just not enough help, and we do what we can but the suicide rate is definitely incredible right now and we hope to change that.

I know a lot of the work that you’re doing is supportive and making a very positive impact in those communities. Hopefully, with those kinds of homecomings, and the support to families, it’s helping those veterans to not go in that direction, but to seek better help, better coping strategies, and build better resilience as well.

Dan, thank you so much for joining me on this Spotlight. We appreciate you for sure.

Dan: Thank you for having me.

Caroline: Thanks for all the work you do.

To all our readers, we at FRC care very much for our veterans and all first responders. Sadly, our helpers and warriors do not always receive the dignity, respect, and honor they deserve. As we continue to battle the stigma of mental health and provide all the help we can, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you or someone you love needs assistance. Drop us a line anytime and someone will be in touch within 24 hours. You can also reach out to the below contacts. Don’t wait; help is here.