Hi! I'm MSGT. Roger Sparks, a former Reconnaissance Marine and retired Alaskan Pararescueman. I'm also a Silver Star Recipient, artist, and author of the new memoir, Warrior's Creed. I have served within the military as both a Reconnaissance Marine and an Air Force Pararescueman for over 25 years. Like many veterans, I suffered from PTSD. I discovered how healing it is to receive tattoos (which I talked about with Casey Neistat here ), and after training, now am fortunate to tattoo fellow veterans to help with their healing process. My book, Warrior’s Creed, co-written with Don Rearden (who will be joining me in this AMA) is my first attempt at capturing my crazy life story. From my unusual upbringing in outlaw biker culture to overcoming debilitating injuries to dangerous Alaskan wilderness rescues, my story is as much of a self-help book as it is a memoir. I hope it reveals a motivating and mindful approach to overcoming the odds, facing the impossible, and finding mercy and grace in the aftermath. AMA!

Proof: https://i.redd.it/vv39gui5t6n31.jpg

Thanks to all! Signing off --- take care! Enjoyed this AMA! Roger & Don

Comments: 76 • Responses: 23  • Date: 

funkys22 karma

Good morning, I have a friend who is a veteran. 99% of the time he seems fine, but on the occasions when we start to lose him (usually after drinking) what can I do to bring him back/de-escalate the situation?

RogerSparks40 karma

That's a heavy question --- that's tough --- no easy way to answer that one. Connect as sincerely and clearly as possible. Involve yourself with doing productive and healthy things with him and in the midst of that, delve into the issues. Connecting in a sincere way, one on one, is what is important -- outside of superficial gabbing/social drinking.

RogerSparks42 karma

If someone is drinking and getting deep, really you need to get at them before they are sloshed. Some of the best advice I got was to go out into the mountains and sweat hard --- and then get at stuff. That was from Mick McManus, legedary Vietnam Pararescueman -- because when you experienced that military based trauma you were at max heart rate and engaged with what you are doing -- so to recreate that in a safe environment is more healthy. You're doing self-initiated cognitive therapy.

cracksilog18 karma

I’ve been to Anchorage in the summer, and I love how the sun never sets. Absolutely gorgeous! And I have family in Barrow too. How do you deal with the darkness in the winter months?

RogerSparks31 karma

Face the music --- get outside and get your heart pumping! (And it really isn't dark here all day --- not like in Utqiagvik on the North Slope).

sendingiteveryday11 karma

Msgt Sparks, thank you for the AMA. I read your book and it was fantastic. It moved me in ways I cannot describe with words. What books or actions/activities do you recommend to get in touch more with the spiritual side of the world?

Long story short I'm an aspiring PJ, and it's been a journey of self discovery since I started. However, I believe my spiritual fitness isn't strong and it feels like the missing piece to the puzzle, the puzzle being me as a whole.

Thank you for sharing your story. It has given me more than I know how to explain.

RogerSparks12 karma

Thank you. I appreciate that! I would say all the books listed in the book are a good start. The Alchemist. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Middle Parts of Fortune. Moby Dick. --- Watch The Razor's Edge (Bill Murray). The Celestine Prophecy (something that geared me towards being hyper aware of the metaphysical --- reading books to really understand the mind and softened me before I was too hardened) ---- Good luck with your training and your path toward enlightenment and finding your purpose and intent.

RogerSparks7 karma

Another book I have to add is: Be Here Now (Hanuman Foundation)

vegetarianrobots11 karma

Good morning MSGT!

Given your expertise, what are the best simple first aid and survival tips you think everyone should know?

Thank you!

RogerSparks20 karma

Good morning! (Way too early in AK to be answering life and death questions! Haha) If it is a life threatening situation where someone is projecting violence, you have to first project violence back --- once you've stopped the capacity to project violence, collect the wounded, stop the bleeding, treat for shock... Before you enter any situation like that you always want to have your "go to hell plan," even if it's loose. For wilderness survival -- I would say knowing where you are at and what your capabilities are and knowing what you can do. Can you create shelter, walk out -- go into the matrix of what are the threats and what are your abilities. Knowing yourself is key. Can you walk a hundred miles with a broken leg, or do you need to sit there and try to build a fire. Knowing yourself is vital.

RogerSparks16 karma

Resolve and Intent. That is the real answer.

marco18749 karma

Thank you for your service, Roger! What's the craziest rescue operation you've ever performed in Alaska?

RogerSparks29 karma

We flew out for a rescue -- to make a long story short, it was frigid weather, dead of winter, and two young women overdue a day. The snow was sugar and they had run their snowmachine off the trail and got stuck. They froze their clothing trying to get the machine out of the snow and when we got to them they were partially declothed and frozen, still alive ---- and they were so frozen and hard to get into the helicopter because their clothing, Carharts, was frozen and so stiff we could barely move them through the snow to the helo. They lived, but lost both lost lower limbs --- and turns out they had been involved in a robbery of some sort!

RogerSparks14 karma

That is just one of a career of wild rescues.

vpblaze8 karma

Good Day MSGT

Thanks for doing an AMA! Ever since you appeared online with Casey Neistat I have been taken back with how professional and motivated you are. Even more so with the Safariland video you did as well. I watch that little video frequently as a reminder of how to handle things. And lastly, the passion you put into your tattooing is amazing. I hope someday to make a trip up north to get some work done by yourself. My question might be too personal, but how have you been doing ever since your retirement? Do you find yourself missing the job? Missing the boys? If so, how do you handle this?

RogerSparks13 karma

That's a good ones --- ups and downs. The struggle is real. It's important to recreate ourselves and not get hung up on who we think we are and allow ourselves to grow. It's more difficult than it sounds. The book has been a cathartic process. Releasing the anchor of the past and moving forward in the present. Live fresh now, with the tools you have now. Live now in the moment. Everyday I miss the job. Everyday the Pavehawks fly over the tattoo shop I'm in and I wonder what PJS are in the helo and sometimes I receive or send texts to see who is in it. We all mean something to someone else. But I miss it. We're not what we were --- I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person (paraphrasing from Louis Carol's Alice in Wonderland). We romantize the past but the present is just as magical -- you have to engage with that, the present is where the magic is.

boombanator6 karma

Good morning, MSgt. Sparks! I ship out for basic training in 47 days as an aspiring SERE specialist. What advice you have for future service members, especially those pursuing careers in special operations? Thank you!

RogerSparks20 karma

If I could answer in a matter of fact way -- the gift is in the process itself. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the suffering. The goal means nothing without those things. It's all about the journey and the reflection. It has nothing to do with wearing the beret or being the instructor. It's all about the journey. Don't focus on the goal. Get lost in the process of it. I always see guys in a deployment who are only thinking about getting back, waiting on the end result -- and not living. There are moments there for reflection. The gift or the benefit is hidden in the process. Enjoy the process. The lesson is learning that is all the process -- including when you get to the instructor level. It's all growth. Don't get focused on the goal. Good luck! Thanks!

EdBos6 karma

Good morning. What’s the best tattoo you’ve done?

RogerSparks7 karma

That's a tough one -- from tattooing my mom, my dad before he died, my son, my wife --- many dear friends. Tattoo art is odd --- the canvas has an opinion. You have to work through what a person wants. One really powerful one was tattooing my dear friend the tattoo artist Scott Campbell on the side of an Alaska mountain, after a brutal wilderness trek, using a solar powered prison machine on his back (between where Johnny Depp and Sting had tattooed him) and we had just hiked twenty miles over rugged mountainous terrain in Wrangell St. Elias, to the point where we were physically and emotionally beyond our limits. That was pretty heavy duty. The catharsis of it all was crazy. My friend Jay's back -- a fellow former PJ and now member of Force Blue with me -- a massive tattoo is also something special.

bsbing6 karma

Do you think the movies/show depicting most soldiers enjoying kills is accurate? (i.e. Generation Kill) How did you feel when you first killed another human? ..thank you for your service.

RogerSparks18 karma

That opens a can of worms. Turning war into entertainment is highly inaccurate. I think it does a disservice. It cheapens the experience and I think that it forces people who have experienced those things to become more isolated in their search for deeper meaning. For myself -- there is no romance or entertainment in projecting violence. There is a release in a story line with violence, but the reality is you have a connection as a human with someone you kill, and to stand by a dead body, of someone you killed, in desperation and fear, but the reality of it is none of that is there when it's done. You project violence out of pack-like mentality -- a wolf pack threat--where you protect your herd and your brothers, but you're not trying to be cool. But everyone is a voyeur to the peep show until you're in you're the actor in the porno. You're realizing you're crossing lines that you can't ever take back. You kill a kid who was going to kill you, but then later you have your own kid, and you learn the actions we project come back to us -- it gets all Interstellar!

Ghana_Mafia4 karma

Have you seen with your own 2 eyes....any mythical creatures?...like a mermaid?

RogerSparks7 karma

No, but I've seen a Merman. Just kidding. I've always sort of feared creatures while diving -- but that's just the fear in my imagination.

Chtorrr4 karma

What is the very best dessert?

RogerSparks7 karma

I'm going with Cherry Pie ala mode. (My co-author says Alaska Tundra Blue Berry Pie)

henderbone4 karma

Good morning MSgt! I first ran into part of your story reading Jimmy Settle’s “Never Quit” and I just finished your book, which was amazing. I’m an Air Force Paramedic (base EMS type) and at the end of this enlistment I plan on putting in a re-training package for Pararescue. I love emergency medicine, adventure sports, and have a desire to serve in the greatest capacity that I can. Being a PJ seems to wrap all of that up nicely.

What is your current optic on the direction that Air Force Special Warfare is heading now, with many confirmed and many more rumored changes occurring? What advice would you give to somebody at the beginning of this journey?

Thank you for your time, service, and for the excellent book.

RogerSparks4 karma

The details don't matter -- focus on the process. Resolve and intent. In the end, focusing on the journey, if done correctly, the goal disappears. (Also answered some of that sfuff about the direction of changes above!) Glad you enjoyed the book, too!

skytrash693 karma

Being one of the most influential and renowned PJ’s what should be the current direction of the career field? Unilateral, ST, or keep the status quo?

What is the historical appropriate time for the Guardian Angel tattoo? What about the green feet?

What was your transition out of AD like? How did you support your family or did you get an AGR slot in Alaska?

You seem to have a growth oriented mindset so what is the next step for you?

RogerSparks10 karma

The Air Force has always been in a bit of an identity crisis, specifically to Guardian Angel, again to fall back on resolve and intent is all that really matters. Pararescuemen are always called to solve the unsolvable problems. A rabbit hole to dive down into to discuss dictating training process or techniques, and I was told by the commander of First Force Recon in Vietnam, that all you have to do to train men for combat effectively to function, is to have them suffer and identify with their suffering. As far as the career field, but also Special Ops in general, we need to cross polinate more, Task Force Operations are populated with members through all the special ops units and I think we need to cross-pollinate and deploy more togeher. It's not easily explained, but it needs to be homogenized all of special ops. I feel like we all should go through the same selection course based on your natural inclinations and talent. It all needs to be unified. I think that is where it is going anyway. Our special operations doesn't need to branch oriented, we need be unified. That is the call to action. Have one direct selection, have all of the money and training -- unify all that effort and you'd get some crazy powerful shit. Screw identities of each group and unify those groups service wide. Sure it is screwing tradition, but fuck tradition. The only thing tradition does is helps us identify with our suffering. There needs to be two militaries. One for pomp and circumstance, and one for the guys with blood under their fingernails -- the kid drinking battery acid and lighting skateboards on fire. They understand living in desperation. The greatest war fighters we have are the underprivileged kids of America. They are the toughest men I know. They are subconsciously championing the country.

As for the tattoo -- the green feet tattoo came from Vietnam. Wayne Fisk, legendary PJ in Vietnam. When they would recover Fighter Pilots, those pilots would say Jolly Green Saved our ass --- so the first tattoo was in the Phillipines where our men would go on R&R. There isn't a hard and fast time for when you can get one -- it's like a bank acount -- once you feel like you've put in enough in the bank account, then you can take it out. Have you given enough where you represent what that symbol means, do you deserve it. Same thing with the SEAL frog or trident, or the Recon Jack. Have you put in enough to draw from the account without bouncing the check. All those images are generational. Green Feet are Vietnam era, Guardian Angel during my time, but the Alaska team has adopted a Cheshire Cat (my design) that reaches back to Vietnam.

After 25 years of service, transition is something you have to go about very consciously for your family and your own mental stability. I purposefully created a new identity of tattooing before I left pararescue. And I do think it is important to find dichotomy in heading that direction. That is the only way to experience true growth in learning from our experiences. My next step --- continue to focus on creativity and articulating or processing the events of my life, and it gets all metaphysical, but taking virtuous risks is the only way to live. It looks different every day. Thanks!

Beardsman5283 karma

Hey MSgt Sparks. I first heard of you from Jimmy Settle's book and I look forward to picking up yours now that I know about it.

I was wondering how life as a PJ affected your personal relationships? More specifically marriage. I'm prior service, a college grad, engineer, and married, but the office life just doesn't feel right for me and I want to do something meaningful with my life and career. I'm 30, never really knew how to swim properly in my life, and started training a few weeks ago for the pipeline. I'm currently still discussing the career with my wife, she's just scared for me.

Thanks for your service.

RogerSparks10 karma

Good luck! Cubicle life is a slow death. Take the risk. Trust yourself. There is a quote in the special ops training pipeline: "The cowards never started and the weak will die along the way." As for intimate relationships: be careful. Taking great risks within our lives to grow personally, we can grow at different rates. Take time to involve your partner every step of the way.
And good luck again. You'll need it!

conditionwade2 karma

Hello Mr. Sparks, I just finished your book and I must say it was fantastic. I’m enlisting in the coast guard to pursue a career as a rescue swimmer, and I hope to be stationed in Alaska. My question for you is: how are rescue missions in Alaska divided up between coast guard and pararescue? Does coast guard do most of the sea rescues, while pararescue does the wildland/middle of nowhere stuff? Have you ever worked with rescue swimmers on any SAR case?

Thank you for your service, sir. I hope to one day be half the man you are.

RogerSparks7 karma

Thanks! Glad you liked the book! Every rescue in Alaska, or call for help, goes through the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), They dictate or delve out assets to effect that rescue. They have all assets there from State Troopers to Pararescue to Candian SAR to Coast Guard to coordinate the rescue. What is the most logical way to solve the problem. Many rescues are multi-agency. One team one fight! Many missions we did would be with the Coast Guard or the State Troopers. We're all pieces of the puzzle.

ReverseWho1 karma

As an Alaskan do you feel the Alaska permanent fund dividend helped you at all during your low times? Do you think there needs to be easier access and cost-free mental healthcare for those diagnosed with PTSD?

RogerSparks4 karma

On a lighter note of the PFD -- even whores have to eat --- on to serious --- the reality of PTSD is very misunderstood. Things are vastly improving, but for the most part, even seeking help for PTSD is isolating and frustrating. I feel combat veterans needs get watered down by online trainings or crisis lines to reduce suicides or stem the problem, but the real difficulty is helping people find meaning from their experiences in a superficial world. The pace and depth of our culture doesn't allow someone to find sincere meaning from their experiences. SO it ends up being to left to the individuals. The only rolemodels we get are dictated by pop culture and entertainment films. Modern culture doesn't have time or the attention span to help a veteran find meaning from his/her experiences.

ReverseWho2 karma

Thanks for the answer. I heave heard that studies show that suicide prevention hotlines do not work that well. From your response maybe holding workshops on different topics like the arts can help those with ptsd find something new to interest them or a hobby to give their life meaning and not feel so isolated.

RogerSparks4 karma

Creativity is the bridge to processing the events of our lives. Finding a way to be creative and share your personal story is a way to find meaning and connect to others.

wimpyroy1 karma

What shoes do you wear?

RogerSparks4 karma

Really big ones! (Size 13-14) ALTRA is the brand I really dig.

Fireforce851 karma


What is the commitment when joining PJ/ CRO guard? 2 years of college left then considering Ky ANG. I’ll be 36 (6rs prior service. Do you go to indoc, home, jump school, home, dive school, home? Or do you plan on being away for 2 years straight without interruption? And is joining at 36 common? Thanks for your time.

RogerSparks4 karma

Details don't matter --- find a way. The world makes way for a determined man.