Empowering and strengthening the hearts and minds of those who are warriors at heart
Major Michael McCave was born in Alabama and moved to Levittown, NY around five years old, as his father is a Reverend and needed to move to take care of the church located on Long Island. Since childhood, Michael was always very active and was drawn to playing sports and spending time outside. He played and thrived at football and baseball during his childhood and teenage years and he went on to attend Farmingdale College where he played baseball for their team. Although playing sports and spending time in the outdoors was important to him, he always had a desire to be a soldier. As early as three years old, God had put on his heart to be a soldier and warrior. This dream and desire eventually became realized, as Michael decided to enlist in the US Army right after high school, before attending Farmingdale College. After a few years at Farmingdale College, Michael was presented with the opportunity to attend Hofstra University on a full scholarship, with the promise of graduating as a First Lieutenant Officer. In the fall of 2001, Michael transferred to Hofstra University and moved onto campus where he was introduced with his future college sweetheart and later wife, Sarah.
Shortly after the semester began, a tragedy hit the country on September 11, 2001; the Twin Towers were hit. Michael was called to NYC to aide in the relief and cleanup of the wreckage that was left by the terrorist attack. Michael moved out of the dorms and there was no expectation that he would return to his dormitory, and he had no idea when he would resume his studies at Hofstra University. Michael and Sarah did not speak for about a month and Sarah had no idea what happened to him or where he would end up once he returned from NYC. Around the third week of October, Michael ended up coming back to Hofstra. This was a huge surprise to Sarah, as she didn’t expect to see him again. From that point on, Mike and Sarah began dating and went onto getting engaged in December 2004.
In 2006, Michael deployed on his first of four combat tours to Iraq for 15 months. In April 2008, Michael and Sarah were married. Michael decided to try out for Special Forces selection and was selected in 2008. After the Special Forces Qualification Course, Michael was sent to 10th SFG, located at Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs, to serve as a Special Forces Detachment Commander. He was deployed to the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe during his time in group. On a combat deployment in Iraq, two weeks before Michael and Sarah’s daughter Brielle was born, Michael was injured while on an Advanced Special Operation, where he suffered an injury in an unexpected small arms engagement. Michael was very fortunate to be wearing his chest plate which took two rounds to the chest. Thankfully, he only suffered broken ribs, a torn shoulder and a mild TBI and was able to get home just in time to see the birth of his daughter.
In the later part of the 2013, Sarah had some health issues which required Michael to be home for a period of time, so Michael took a training assignment teaching Special Operators HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) operations and instructing students to learn this very specific skill. On October 8, 2014, Major Michael McCave sustained a HALO parachuting accident during a HALO operation at Yuma Proving Grounds. Major McCave was in the midst of a highly skilled training jump operation in which Major McCave was required to stay with a fellow jumper through the bottom of their pull sequence. MAJ McCave quickly deployed his main parachute, however, there was a defect and his reserve shoot quickly came out. This was due to a safety mechanism built into the parachutes which automatically deploys the reserve chute if the flier is still traveling at terminal velocity through 1500 FT above ground level. As a result, both chutes were deployed in the air, became entwined and went above then below his body and stayed tangled like that for the rest of his jump.
Major McCave free-fell to the ground at 119 mph, with no protection other than his faith and trust in God that he would be saved.
Miraculously, Major McCave’s life was spared by the grace of God, however he sustained two broken ankles, one with a compound fracture, an open book pelvic break, a broken sacrum, broken L3-L5 vertebrae processes, cervical spine damage and a Traumatic Brain Injury that affected his vision, memory, language processing and emotional well-being. Major McCave has been in several hospitals over the last two years and has relearned how to do so many everyday living activities including walking and reading.
Below is a note from Michael about his recovery experience and dreams for the future:
Throughout my time in the hospital, I was always being fed prescription drugs for either the physical pain or something to keep me in a state of sedation. I thought if I could keep my pain level down enough, so that I could get though the workouts, I would recover fast enough to get back to being strong enough to perform on an Operational team again. What I didn’t see coming, was the addiction that was being created due to taking the mountain of prescription drugs that I was given and becoming more dependent on them to get me though my pain instead of relying on my faith, my family, and my principles. At one point I got so fed up with my situation, that I made the decision to immediately stop taking the drugs; my body, however, did not feel the same way. I greatly struggled with the symptoms of withdrawal and started to become extremely angry and hopeless that my recovery would not be fast enough or allow me to go back to being a Special Forces Soldier.
One day, while speaking with one of my doctors about this struggle, I was referred to a Therapeutic Horse Ranch, called Cornerstone Riding Center, located in San Diego, CA. I knew that I always loved horses, but I really had no idea how much I would be affected by them and how they would heal me in such a tremendous way. My wife drove us to the facility, and there I met two of the most giving people, who took us in with no pressure or expectations and they met me where I was at the time, teaching me horsemanship and allowing me to connect with the horses. There is a saying that “the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of the horse”, this saying captures my experience completely. I began to visit the ranch weekly, learning about horses and also learning about myself. A pivoting moment for me, was the day that I was able to have the horse that I was working with show pure trust for me. This was amazing to me since horses are prey animals by nature and yet that horse showed me respect and trust, even though they can consider humans to be predators. This changed my life and the way I was thinking. I gradually stopped feeling as angry and anxious and I started feeling purpose and the need to be a leader because a horse looks for leadership at all times. This was the fundamental change that I needed to break me out of the rhythm of believing a lie, a lie that I would never be healed, and it helped to start moving my life forward and with new purpose.
The healing that I received through my time working with horses at Cornerstone Therapeutic Riding Center also had such an affect on my relationships, specifically with my family. My experiences and injuries from my time in the military caught up with me and negatively affected my ability to connect to others. Looking back, I realize that after the first injury that I sustained during my first deployment, I began to slowly withdraw socially and emotionally from others, especially with my wife. Memories of my combat experiences and lasting effects of my injuries interfered with my ability to be present and emotionally available. After my parachuting accident, my outlook on life and what I was able achieve as a soldier and as a man was diminished almost completely. Anger and feelings of depression gripped my soul and this caused me to pull away from the people that loved me most. When darkness seemed to be all that there was, my interactions with the horses helped to infuse some light and hope into my life and my future. The joy and the purpose that I felt by riding and working with horses helped to reopen my heart to feeling love and joy again. I realized that I closed my heart off to my wife and daughter and that I needed to start leaning on them again and emotionally let them back in. Looking back on where my heart and mind were after the accident to where they are now, just reconfirms the true healing that horses can have on a person’s soul.
Today, after traveling throughout the US and learning from all different ranches and trainers, I have developed a desire and a goal that I want to act upon. How can I help my fellow warriors also come to the realization that they are still important and strong and have a purpose in life. How can I help them to refute the lie that they are helpless and help to make a difference in their lives. I have always felt the best by teaching, helping and serving. I did this as a Green Beret and as a Christian man and now I want to open the door again to give and share in a new way. My wife and I have partnered up with my life-long friend, Joseph Agustin, who is a K-9 Police Officer, as well as two other board members, and created a Non-Profit organization called Warrior Mission Ranch, Inc. Our mission is to empower the hearts and minds of all “warriors” at heart. Originally, my vision for this organization was to cater to wounded veterans, however, I have come to realize that a “Warrior at Heart” can be anyone who is fighting and just needs some help to find their purpose again. It is not just the Soldier who is a warrior, but it may be the First Responder who needs help finding his/her way again or the child who continues to fight his or her personal battle with a “Warrior’s Heart”.
I feel so honored and privileged to have been afforded the grace of God and to have people been put in my life to help me find this new purpose and drive. Now we have opened our doors to help other warriors find the same purpose through various Team Building events using Equine and Canine activities, as well as leadership training.