The Armor Down/Daddy Up!™ (AD/DU!) program is designed to assist veterans and active-duty warriors with reentering their families in the most productive and rewarding ways possible. It is also designed to be of value to others who have been impacted by trauma-related experiences.
AD/DU! was created by:
Ben King, an Iraq War veteran, and Purple Heart recipient who has helped hundreds of veterans “armor down” with mindfulness, meditation, and yoga practices; and
Allan Shedlin, a veteran educator, longtime parenting coach, and writer who applies what he’s learned from his nearly three decades of daddying research with fathers, grandfathers, and children from 20 countries; his own experiences as a son, grandson, father, and grandfather; his five decades as an educator; and his years of conducting daddying workshops in a variety of settings.
Ben King leading an AD/DU! workshop activity in Richmond, VA, October 2019
Ben is the father of two young children, and Allan is the father of three adult children and 5 grandchildren, as well as the “bonus” father and grandfather of many. Both Allan and Ben have experienced the challenges of parenting and the joys and rewards when parenting is satisfying. They share the conviction that almost everybody can become the parent they want to be if they are committed to trying.
Building upon what AD/DU! learned during its pilot programs with Wounded Warrior Project veterans in the greater Richmond, VA, area, it continues to learn from the programs it has conducted in the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio areas.
Embracing the fact that becoming a parent and becoming a soldier are perhaps the two most identity-defining and life-altering moments in the participants’ lives, the Program assists veterans in armoring down from their military experiences and teaches them specific parenting skills to enable them to become the parents THEY want to be. It builds upon the idea that when parenting is satisfying it can help mitigate the negative consequences often associated with the realities of deployment and its aftermath.
Popular media often depict the heartwarming, joyful reunions of returning veterans surprising their children and loved ones. But that's Day #1. Day #2 and the days that follow are rarely given the same attention.
For so many veterans, their physical return home from combat precedes their psychological and emotional return. The traumatic baggage that accompanies them home can weigh heavily on their relationships for years to come. The days/daze that follow/s reentry are often influenced by what occurs when the consequences of deployment come face-to-face with the everyday realities and demands of parenting.
They must transition from one “call to arms” to a totally different one...
AD/DU! workshop in Richmond, VA
AD/DU!, along with its Armor Down/Mommy Up!™ (AD/MU!) extension, which held its first session in August 2020, acknowledges that parenting does not exist in a vacuum. It is influenced and impacted by an array of past and present circumstances. There is little doubt, and much research to support, that the experiences of deployment have a profound and lasting impact on the abilities and skills needed for veterans to become the parents they want to be.
Because parenting occurs in a dynamic social context known as family, AD/DU! and AD/MU! create a dynamic interaction between parents and their child(ren). The Program works directly with both groups. Moreover, the family exists within a broad social context that is experiencing the triple uncertainties brought on by a pandemic, its economic fallout, and increased social unrest – these challenges sometimes experienced as more than the sum of their parts – may be amplified for the veterans the Program serves.
By building upon the resilience the veterans may have developed during their military experience, the AD/DU! program seeks to help them develop positive coping skills and reminds them that we all have problems that need to be solved rather than threats that require an attack (Dr. Raymond Novaco).
And because research shows that one of those coping skills is affiliation, AD/DU! and AD/MU! build in opportunities for warrior dads and moms to create a support group, a “band of warrior dads/moms,” with others who are experiencing similar adjustments and challenges.
Creating individually personalized, military-grade meditation cushions, participants learn proven mindfulness, meditation, and yoga exercises/techniques/practices, AD/DU! has developed and field-tested the Daddying Qualities Worksheet™ (A Mommying Qualities Worksheet™ is now available for the
AD/DU! kids having fun with the meditation cushions they made with dad.
AD/MU! program) to assist parents and their children in identifying specific qualities necessary to help kids feel safe, loved, and happy.
Once the parents and kids have determined which skills and competencies are most important to them, they can use the worksheet as a tool to develop daddying and mommying plans. Of course, by comparing and discussing how the dads/moms and the kids rank the importance of these qualities, they will gain a broader and deeper understanding of each other’s parenting priorities and needs.
As AD/DU! has evolved and responded to real-time experiences with veterans and their children, it developed, and recently completed its first AD/DU! 2.0 programs at the request of several veterans who expressed the desire to "go deeper."
One element of the AD/DU! 2.0 program has been to delve more deeply into the scientific underpinnings of mindfulness. To enhance that aspect, the AD/DU! program has added Nancy DeSantis as a third facilitator. Nancy is a wife, a mom, and a grandparent to four boys.
AD/DU! Co-Founder Allan Shedlin with Nancy DeSantis
She is also the Co-Founder and Programs Director of Horses For Heroes - NM, Inc., where she and her veteran, Green Beret husband work with post-9/11 veterans, active military, and their families to forge their own paths to Post-Traumatic Healing and Growth. Nancy's area of expertise and passion as a Resiliency coach lies in the multidimensional aspects of being human and empowering individuals along their healing journey.
The program continues to evolve, and the Wounded Warrior Project encouraged development of a 3.0 version as well as the AD/MU! program. The first AD/MU! session included the addition of new facilitator Deborah Manzanares, a Command Sergeant Major in the Colorado Army National Guard. Debbie is a mother and grandmother, Vice-Chair of the Board of Hagar USA, an
anti-human-trafficking organization, committed to providing sanctuary and hope to women and children. Her background includes more than 25 years working in both private and public sector environments. She also currently works for Hewlett Packard in eBusiness Operations.
In addition to its Daddying/Mommying Qualities Worksheets, AD/DU! and AD/MU! utilize videos and print materials as they explore the following areas:
The practice and science of mindfulness
Creating a Daddying/Mommying Lode Star
Exploring aspects of military training and experiences that enhance and/or interfere with parenting
Identifying objects, people, and/or practices that bring comfort
Reclaiming individual resilience
Creating a Band of Warrior Dads/Moms
Learning basic parenting axioms and skills
Identifying and naming specific feelings and emotions and ways to show and deal productively with them
Gaining access to the resources of the Daddy Wishes Fund.
Currently all AD/DU! and AD/MU! related programs are carried out via Zoom. This has enabled greater participation from veterans where transportation may previously have been a challenge. AD/DU! and AD/MU! continue to be strengthened by the ongoing guidance of two psychologists with expertise in PTSD.