Master Sgt. Clifford Farmer is one tough Marine. As an explosive ordinance disposal technician with four combat tours under his belt, he has years of experience neutralizing and disposing of deadly explosives, including improvised explosive devices, the signature weapon of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
“We always joke in the field that some of us aren’t EOD techs, we’re IED techs,” Farmer said laughingly. “But, truth be told, and as much as I love my family, deployments are my happy place. As a Marine that is where I want to be – on the front lines with my Marines.”
When this battle-hardened senior non-commissioned officer transitioned from serving in operational environments to a support role at Marine Corps Systems Command it was hard.
“I never saw myself not in the field, side-by-side with my Marines,” he said. “At first I didn’t see how my new job was helping the Corps. And I was never cut out for a desk job.”
Little did he know his life was on the line again, but in a way he never saw coming. This time the enemy was himself.
“In the Corps the question is always ‘what have you done for the Marine Corps today?’ It’s about selfless service; someone else always has it worse,” Farmer said. “Throughout my career I’ve had aches and pains and just disregarded them as a passing inconvenience. My physical issues were nothing compared to seeing a friend die, and supporting the friend who carried him home. Everything else seems insignificant. I’ve since learned it’s also important to have self-compassion—to remember to take care of yourself.”
When Farmer found himself at MCSC, his years of combat stress hit, and they hit hard. He underwent multiple surgeries and treatments to repair a body that had not only served in theater, but also performed in sporting events ranging from mud runs to triathlons.
“He was always on the go,” said Shaun Farmer, his wife and a former Marine in her own right. “When he was deployed we waited by the phone fearing the worst, and when he was home he never stopped. He never talked about how the bad things he experienced affected him.”
As Farmer worked through his new physical reality he hit a bump in the road.
“I no longer saw myself as valuable – to the Corps, to my family, to anything,” he said.
“He thought we’d all be better off without him,” said Shaun. “He thought it would be better for me to have the insurance payout he thought I’d receive from his planned death, and that I’d be sad to lose him, but provided for in his absence.”
And that’s where his colleagues at MCSC stepped in.
“I knew Master Sgt. Farmer by reputation before I met him personally,” said Maj. Scott Graniero, a combat engineer and the project officer for Combat Support Systems route reconnaissance and clearance team at MCSC. “As a fellow Marine in a military occupational specialty that works closely with EOD, I understand what he was going through. Nobody wants to be perceived as being weak; it’s hard to ask for help when you are struggling, but in reality you are even stronger because you do.”
Joseph Klocek, product manager for engineering systems at MCSC is a retired Marine, and there was no way someone was going to suffer on his watch.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, the Marine Corps is a family,” said Klocek. “Clifford needed to take care of himself, and so we made sure that was not a problem at work. If you’re not taking care of yourself, how can you take care of your Marines?”
Farmer said it was the understanding of his colleagues that allowed him to take the time he needed to recover, both physically and mentally.
“They gave me the time and space I needed to work through all the things I needed to deal with,” he said. “Because of that I was able to not only undergo all the surgeries I needed to fix the physical issues that had nagged at me for years, but also to take the time to seek help for the mental and emotional things I needed to work through.”
Farmer credits the care he received for where he is today – above ground and working to help Marines who are hurting like he once did.
“I was surprised by the amount of care available,” Farmer said. “I was a little hesitant at first, so I sought help outside the command through Military and Family Life Counselors and Military OneSource. Once it became evident that I had the support of my command, I decided to stop hiding and sought help through the Naval Health Clinic Quantico’s Behavioral Health and case management.”
Thanks to the help he received from the Behavioral Health Team, Farmer said he now has a better understanding of his post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, and how to combat them.
“Because of the support of my family and colleagues at MCSC, I can see beyond the hurt and pain I may be experiencing,” he said.
Both Clifford and Shaun Farmer emphasized the importance of understanding and compassion for caring for Marines.
“There is always that small segment of the population who will take advantage of the system,” said Farmer. “But most people are not taking advantage. And no matter what, nobody can ever truly understand the pain that someone is experiencing. It’s unique to each individual. As comrades and leaders we owe it to each other to show compassion for our brothers and sisters-in-arms. We have to take care of each other.”
Farmer urges leaders across the Marine Corps to show the same understanding and compassion he experienced at MCSC, and encourages everyone to keep an eye on each other.
“Nobody wants to tell anyone they are going to see the wizard,” Farmer said. “We have to proactively combat the stigma against seeking help as early as possible. Seeking help doesn’t make you weak, it’s the opposite – it makes you stronger.”
Story by Emily Greene