Elliott Woods - Stories from Dangerous Places

Elliott Woods is a Montana-based veteran and multimedia journalist who has reported for publications including Outside, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and many more. His most recent project is a podcast called THIRD SQUAD, which tells the powerful story of "one journalist, 12 Marines and two decades of war." Back in 2011, Elliott was an embedded journalist with a group of Marines who were positioned deep in one of Afghanistan's most dangerous regions. Nearly a decade later, Elliott embarked on a cross-country road trip to reunite with the surviving members of the team and discuss how that violent deployment impacted their lives. Third Squad tells the stories of these Marines, offering raw insights into the impact of war on individual soldiers, both on the battlefield and back at home.

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Elliott was born and raised on the east coast, and as a kid, he never had strong ambitions to join the military. However, after an unsuccessful stint in college left him lacking purpose and low on options, he decided to join the National Guard. Elliott was eventually deployed to Iraq, where he served for a year as an Army combat engineer. When Elliott had finished serving and returned to college at the University of Virginia, he approached his education with a new focus and purpose, and it was there that he discovered writing and journalism. As a journalist, Elliott has traveled everywhere from war-torn regions of the globe to well-known conflicts in the American West-- from the Gaza Strip to the front lines of the Keystone XL Pipeline protests. Whether reporting on public lands, outdoor adventure, or war, Elliott brings focus and intensity to all of his projects.

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Elliott and I met years ago, so it was great to reconnect and have an in-depth conversation about his life and career. We started out by discussing his upbringing in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and how he developed a love of the outdoors at an early age. We discuss his education, his failed first attempt at college, and his path to the military. We discuss his time in Iraq, his career as a journalist, and the origins of the Third Squad podcast. We talk about the current state of journalism, and Elliott discusses why he feels the need to cover stories that involve dangerous people and places. We talk about hero culture, the importance of having a purpose, how the natural world has been a healing force in his life, and Elliott offers up some excellent book recommendations.

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I encourage all of you to check out Third Squad, as well as Elliott's 2016 TED Talk that I reference in the conversation. There are links to everything in the episode notes. Thanks to Elliott for all of his hard work and for joining me for such an important conversation. Enjoy!

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TOPICS DISCUSSED:

  • 4:00 – Elliott’s childhood and how he got into the military
  • 12:00 – Elliott discusses what it was like having joined the military weeks before 9/11/2001
  • 15:00 – Elliott talks about reintegrating to normal life as a student after his deployment in Iraq
  • 22:30 – Elliott discusses the importance of having a mission in his life
  • 29:00 – Elliott talks about why he disagrees with “hero culture” in the US
  • 34:30 – Elliott talks about his mentality when writing about powerful or dangerous people
  • 43:00 – Elliott talks about “solution journalism” and the need to highlight problems in journalism
  • 53:45 – Elliott discusses the impact Montana and nature has had on him
  • 58:15 – Elliott’s book recommendations
  • 1:04:00 – Elliott’s parting words of wisdom

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