The battlefield might be enemy territory, and it might be in your own living room. Former Green Beret Scott Mann brings the battlefield to the stage in the play Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret. The show stops this weekend in Vermillion on its American tour.
Last Out seeks to help veterans and veteran families navigate the military journey and to help civilians understand the battle that for many never ends.
Scott Mann is a retired Lt. Colonel. He spent nearly 23 years in the Army, including deployments in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Eighteen years of his service was as a Green Beret. He spoke with Lori Walsh on In the Moment and then shared a social video about what the interview meant to him. You can read the edited version below or listen to it here.
Lori Walsh: Scott Mann, thank you for joining us on the phone. We appreciate your time.
Scott Mann: Thank you so much, Laura. I don't even know that I need to talk. You just did it all.
Lori Walsh: Isn't it lovely?
Scott Mann: Thank you so much for that. That was just amazing and I really appreciate you framing it the way you did in the beginning with the living room and the battlefield. Thank you.
Lori Walsh: Tell us a little bit about when you decided that theater and that writing might be a way to express your own personal journey and the journey of so many others.
Scott Mann: That's a great question, when I got out of the army six years ago, I retired and I was in a very dark place. My transition from the military, like a lot of other veterans, was just challenging. I had gone from a world that I was fully expressed and I knew what I was doing as a Green Beret, had strategic relevance. And then all of a sudden, I'm out, hanging out with my family in flip flops in Tampa, Florida.
It was a really, really tough transition for me and it was actually some mentors who showed me the power of storytelling as a way to reintegrate back into society and take the scars and the journey from my past life and share it as leadership lessons with this new world that I lived in. And most societies on the planet have done this with warriors for centuries, but for some reason, we don't.
So my wife and I started a nonprofit called The Hero's Journey and we help warriors find their voice and tell their story as a transition tool. So as I started doing that and getting on more and more stages, people said, "You should consider a one-act play and use veterans as the storytellers." And that's exactly what I did. I wrote for two years, based on all true stories and I put together this play based on one Green Beret and his family and the impact that the war had on them over the course of 18 years now that we've been fighting. And that's what led me to do it.
Lori Walsh: And you have on this journey with you, other veterans who are incredibly, creatively, professionally trained actors as well. But all of them who have personal stories of their own, tell us about that.
Scott Mann: You know what? That's so true and not only is our cast that way, but our whole travel team is that. They are either veterans or the families of veterans and it just evolved that way. But what I knew was this story is such an emotional roller coaster, whether you're a civilian that's never served or a gold star family member or a veteran. This is a white knuckle ride that's just an honest rendering of the impact of war abroad and at home. And so I knew that if we were going to make the room safe, so that everybody in that room felt like they earned their seat, then the people on the stage had to have lived this.
So we put together a four-person cast and the three of the actors are combat veterans, two Green Berets, one paratrooper, Brian, Lenny and myself. And then the person who plays my character's wife, her name is Lynn Patton is also our director. Her name is Ame and she is a military family member. And then the rest of our team, we have wounded warriors, who served in Iraq. We have spouses of an air force veteran who committed suicide is our tour manager. It is a multi-pronged military story in and of itself, arcane.
Lori Walsh: You said making the room safe and I want to talk about the actors on stage and then we'll talk about the audience. But for the actors and the traveling team and the people who are involved in this production, this is another act of service, generosity, vulnerability, and risk. You're putting yourself into an emotional space that you could get out of. Well, maybe you can't get out of it, but you don't have to do that to yourself theatrically and to be present for people and to lay yourself bare like that. Why do you do it?
Scott Mann: Thank you for asking that and thank you for noticing that, I really appreciate it. The reason that we believe so strongly that we have to do this is that 18 years into this war, my son, my oldest son was three years old when the towers fell and next year he's going to be an infantry lieutenant. And he's going to go fight the same war that I did not finish.
I believe that our society today and our politicians especially, don't fully understand the impact of a multi-generational war that we just keep going back to and going back to. It's almost like it's a video game because it's such a small percentage of people who are going and it's the same people. I feel so compelled as the writer and a performer, as do my cast mates, that we must tell this story in a way that's never been told by voices that have never been heard.
We need people to understand the impact on a military family, on the spouses, on the children. The big screen never tells their story. We need people to understand the realities of PTS and how it shows up. And we need people to understand that no matter what pain we go through in this life, no matter how bad our trauma is, we need to let go and live a life that we deserve to live. That's why we bring it all on the stage, so that the audience can experience that in an emotional, visceral level.
Lori Walsh: How do you exit this space? When the night is over, you've done the performance, you've addressed the audience, if that's the case. How do you put on your flip flops and say it's okay to have my flip flops on for a while?
Scott Mann: Yeah, yeah, thank you for asking that as well. What we do is a couple of things. One is we always do a talk back with the audience. We know that the content that we've talked about is tough. And so we bring the curtain up and we sit with the audience and we talk with them and we cry with them and we celebrate with them and we hold them and we don't leave until the last person leaves.
And we make sure that they know we've got them and they've got us and that's number one. And then the cast, we go backstage and we circle up the way we did. We hold hands and we breathe and we just breathe out that pain and that trauma and we take it off like we do a set of body armor. We hang it on the closet and then we go back to living the lives that we led and it's breath work and training that allows us to do that. But closing out with that audience really is the way that we're able to exit to the next town.
Lori Walsh: All right, so let's talk about that audience because it's an experience for them and how do you prepare the audience for what's ahead? Because many people who are going to come to the play are also the ones who are going to be affected the most by seeing these situations, by seeing the lights and the noises and the pain.
Scott Mann: Yeah, the first thing that I tell people, and we say it in the words that come out at the beginning of the play. This is a story about war performed by those who lived it. And so the first thing you need to know is, this play is about war. And it's about war on the battlefield. And it's about the war on the home front. And we're going to lift the curtain up and we're going to tell you the story. This is a true story, every single thing in this play is based on truth.
And so you're going to experience the elements of war and then again, the reason is that if we're going to keep sending our men and women to fight in these far flung places, which I believe at times we have to do, then we damn sure need to understand what it is we're asking them to do as citizens, as politicians, as leaders.
And so this play does that and we put that out right up front. I tell people, "Look, you're going to come to this play. If you're a veteran or a military family member, you're going to leave validated." You're gonna look and go, "Yup, that was my story." You may be triggered at times, you may walk out and take a breath and come back in. We've never had anyone walk out and not come back. Most of the veterans actually just go for the ride and when they're done you just see this big sense of validation.
The civilians who have never experienced this, they typically come up with tears in their eyes and say, "I had no idea. I had no idea. Thank you for showing me this and now I better understand the journey that my neighbors are on." And so we just were really up front with it, were really honest. And then again, we just sit with the audience at the end. We talk about what came up for them. We have a psychologist that travels with us that deals with trauma. We'll do PTS interventions right on the spot if we need to. But we're there with the audience and we all go for the ride together.
Lori Walsh: I want to go back to something you said about living a life we deserve, because I want to get to this idea, and you have a statewide audience here with South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Not everyone's going to make it to the show and many people are. I hope they fill up the seats, but for people who, this is going to be their experience with this story, and we'll put some links up on our website, so they can find more, listen.sdpb.org.
Let's talk about what's on the other side of that validation. What's on the other side of feeling that pain? What's possible if you go through, because it's so easy to resist even... I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to... I want to put that chapter behind me. I don't want that to be part of my story. Can I just be someone else, who never had that experience? Why enter the cave, really?
Scott Mann: My experience has been that the trauma that... I have a ton of survivor's guilt. One of the things that I wrestle with all the time is why am I here, when those men, primarily men who did what I asked them to do, are not here? How can I even do this? And that pain can be debilitating. It will cause me to just go dark, crawl inside a hole, mood swings with my family and just pull back from everything in my life.
And what I've learned, and I still have to battle with it though, is that those scars that I have in my life, whether you serve in the military or not. We as humans, we all go through struggle. We all go through trauma. It's part of living. But if we can find in our heart a path to repurpose our struggle in the service of others. If we can talk about how leadership on the battlefield can help other people see a path for their future, why relationships with an Afghan tribal elder are so important. The same way that you restore a relationship with a coworker to let it go.
To let go of the pain, let go of the trauma and stand in your power. It's just, it's so needed in our world today. And that for me, that's why this is so worth it, is that all of us are holding onto something that we need to let go of. And when we do, that's when we find a sense of strength and power and leadership in our lives that we've never had before and that trauma and that struggle can actually be repurposed into goals if we do that. And that's what this play hopefully shows to every single audience member, whether they served or not.
Lori Walsh: Can we repurpose that struggle alone or is by definition the journey forward in some kind of community? In a safe community?
Scott Mann: Well, as a Green Beret and someone who teaches the power of relationships in this world, that's what I teach, is human connection. I will tell you that humans are the most social creatures on the planet. We're able to do the things that we do in our life and build the things that we build because of our social nature. We don't have fur, fangs or claws, but we know how to build teams better than anyone else.
And we absolutely must connect with other human beings if we're going to have the impact in this world that we want to have. That includes if we've been through trauma, if we've been through struggle, trying to go through that on your own is an immensely dangerous proposition. I've seen brothers of mine, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Delta, Green Berets who have killed themselves because they thought they could walk this valley alone and I do not believe in it and I do not subscribe to it.
I believe that the same way that as warriors, we got through life as a team, as a tribe. The same thing must happen on the other side. Frankly the reason we're taking this play to Vermillion and not necessarily Manhattan right now is because I believe it is our community that will help bring our warriors home, not the VA.
It is our community that will find resilience to overcome PTS and to bring these high performing leaders back into the fold where they're leading our children. And so I believe it's absolutely something we must go through together and that the community at Vermillion, in that audience. It needs to be veterans, civilians who've never seen the military, gold star families all sitting together and coming together as a community to talk about and deal with this tough issue we call war.
Lori Walsh: All right, you can come see this play in Vermillion. It is this weekend, Friday, July 19th through Sunday, July 21st. You can find out more at lastoutplay.com if you want to learn more about the hero's journey, which is the 501C3 nonprofit founded by a Scott Mann and his wife. You can go to lastoutplay.com/sponsor. Where do folks get tickets, Scott?
Scott Mann: Well they can get them at the door, but it's probably better because I know South Dakota folks love live theater, so I don't know. It may sell out quick online, so my recommendation would be go to lastoutplay.com, get your tickets there. If you are a veteran or a military family member, type in the code veteran and you can get a discount. But if in a pinch, you want to just get them at the door, you can go there. But I would say get them online lastoutplay.com and come see us one of those three nights.
Lori Walsh: All right, Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann, thank you so much for your words today. You are welcome back here anytime to talk about these issues more. We appreciate your time and everything that you're doing.
Scott Mann: I appreciate you guys and I'd love to invite each and every one of you. You, Chris, everybody to the play as my guests. And then also, if you want to get back on the radio and as a community, talk about what came up, after the play, I'm all yours. Just let me know.
The following day, on Facebook, Scott Mann shared how this interview with Lori impacted him: