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A Journey of Gratitude | By Dr. Carla Long, SOWF Board Member


As a teen growing up in Southern California, my hope was to become a psychologist, the intended focus being to nurture and give hope to juvenile delinquents while transforming lives. However, the next step I took was life changing. After a brief visit to Fort Ord, California, I entered the U.S. Army in 1990, and spent the next twenty-six years on active duty, completing my internship in clinical psychology at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii along the way. From there, I had assignments in Korea, the Sinai, and Fort Gordon, GA. Then, I was offered an assignment at the US Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school at Fort Bragg, NC. In 1998, prior to my assignment at SERE, I went through SERE school and unbeknownst to me at the time, I became the Army’s first female SERE Psychologist.

Thus began my foray into the Special Operations community. I spent the next 18 years of my 26-year career consulting and supporting elite military forces in a variety of assignments. I was inspired by service members’ commitment, patriotism, selflessness, and their willingness to stare down an assortment of daily obstacles. I was both fortunate and grateful to achieve the rank of Colonel and over time I was named Command Psychologist of United States Special Operations Command.

It was at Fort Gordon in 1995 that I developed a love of long-distance running, competing in my first marathon in 1997. Over the next eight years, I would go on to run 12 marathons and twice qualify for the Boston Marathon. One thing led to another and in 1998, as a member of a team of runners, I learned about the Special Operations Warrior Foundation – the group was fundraising for the organization. Future races that benefitted SOWF included a four-day relay run from Fort Bragg to the Pentagon, followed by the Army Ten Miler, which I ended up running two times. During each of these runs, my dedication increased for the organization. 

In SOF I deployed multiple times, supported reintegration operations of isolated and captured personnel, supported the assessment, selection, and training of numerous SOF personnel, and quite importantly, developed life-long friendships, making connections with SOF personnel and their families through some of their brightest days and unfortunately darkest hours. 

Experiencing a myriad of emotions, I have witnessed SOF Operators light up when they receive brightly decorated care packages from home, family pictures delivered to workstations, and were gifted with stuffed animals from family members, all having significant meaning, which were crammed into rucksacks. I have stood by Personnel who were assessed into SOF, who completed grueling training and who fought on the battlefield. I also comforted them in hospital beds and sadly mourned losses visiting gravesites. 

Voted onto the SOWF Board of Directors in 2020, I am thankful to be in a position to contribute to the growth of this meaningful and compassionate organization. It is rewarding to know that what we collectively do benefits the surviving children of the fallen and provides relief to surviving spouses and families. I am not sure there is a better way to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – it is for them that donors take care of their children with full educations. 

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