About the CEO & Founder
U.S. Marine, Founder & CEO
Although the founder and CEO of Warriors Beyond War, David Murcio had a passion for music and dance and recreational activity at an early age, he did not begin to see or experience the benefits of this until his years in High School when he joined several after school programs. He realized that dance as well as sports and other recreational activities were helpful tools to keep students away from trouble while helping discover new passions. In addition to dance, he wrote for the school paper, was president of the French and Spanish club, was part of the debate team and was Captain of the school’s football and wrestling team. After high school he found himself immersed in Latin music, dance and cultural events held by various local Chicago cultural groups such as the Colombian Festival, Pan-American Festival, Fiesta del Sol and others. He immediately felt connected to Salsa and other forms of Latin music and began to self-teach various dance techniques. Within the first year, he won his first salsa competition at a local dance venue, then several more in different professional settings. Eventually he was asked to teach at a local downtown Chicago dance studio, where he also performed and choreographed dance routines.
The USMC Connection: In 1999, David decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He had always envisioned being a Marine and wanted to ensure he did his part in serving our country. While in the Marines, he found a great opportunity to share and teach parts of his cultural background. He understood the power of music and dance when he was able to create cultural interest and participation with individuals, who prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps had never met a Hispanic man or woman in person much less listen or dance to Latin music. During his time in the reserves he felt it was a great opportunity to share his love of music and dance with many who may have never proactively looked for it.
The Iraq/Salsa Experience: In 2004, David was sent to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom with the Chicago Infantry unit 2nd Battalion 24th Marines. Once in Iraq, their Battalion was temporarily attached to the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division and was responsible for the Sunni Triangle area of operation, which at the time was known as one of the most deadly places in Iraq for American service members. Later, David took part in operations that lead to the recapture of the city of Fallujah in 2004. During one of his missions that year, David was wounded and flown to a hospital in Baghdad. Due to his injuries he was at risk of being flown to Europe and then to the U.S. to recover from his injuries. He insisted he stay in Iraq to recover and later rejoined his unit at the forward operating base in Mahmudiyah. It was during this recover time that David was able to briefly have his “Iraq Salsa experience.” David spent some time in the Bagdad “Green Zone” also known as the safe zone. Here, American service members, International coalition military, dignitaries and others were able to reside and safely travel openly within its borders. The green zone was also home to the Baghdad hospital where he was recovering. Although David was on crutches, he was able to freely walk around the area. One day he made it to an embassy where he heard the familiar sounds of salsa music. As he approached he saw military members, civilian contractors, Iraqi locals and others dancing to salsa and other Latin music that was being hastily played from a laptop connected to a large speaker. Regardless of the chaos beyond the borders of the green zone, it was salsa music that at that moment united people from different countries, with different careers and beliefs in a room where a common interest was shared and enjoyed. Although David really loved what he was experiencing, he did not stay long and did not dance. Besides his injuries, he did not want to lose his combat mindset and at the same time did not want to engage in a fun activity while his Marine brothers were still in a combat zone. Before he left, David spoke to one of the organizers of the salsa night who said that these recreational activities were “life savers” because it allowed individuals a safe place to release stress and reconnect with others including locals and non-Americans. He saw that salsa dancing helped create a bond among the people. He felt it gave him and others a strong temporary mental and emotional release and escape to all the dangers that lingered around them. This conversation would later have a greater impact on David.
David’s time in Iraq had been very successful. Missions were accomplished and bonds with the Iraqi people were forged. Unfortunately, the tour in Iraq claimed the lives of 14 Marines from David’s unit and several hundred including David were wounded. In 2005, David and his battalion took part in securing voting locations during the first Iraqi elections and were able to experience the difference in relationship improvements between the Iraqi people in Mahmudiyah and surrounding towns and the Marines. Before leaving Iraq, David and other fellow Marines gave some of their other belongings to Iraqi locals who had worked with them many times on different missions, which included David’s personal Salsa & Merengue CD collection. By this time, many strong friendships were made between the Marines and many of the Iraqi locals.
Recreational Activity Is The Key: From 2006 until the end of 2012, David was part of a unique Marine Corps team that investigated and prosecuted certain allegations of high profiled war-time misconduct. Although David still battled with the emotional and physical injuries from his time overseas, being a Marine meant maintaining and exhibiting strong effective leadership traits and demeanor. Being around Marines 24 hours a day helped keep many of David’s invisible injuries in check as did being based out of Camp Pendleton, which meant living in Southern California. During stressful times, David found easy escapes by maintaining active in various recreational activities, which included fitness, hiking, going to the shooting range, biking, kayaking, horseback riding, salsa dancing and even joining “The Grinder Gym,” which were fun, but hardcore outdoor boot camp style workouts. All these forms of recreational activities helped keep him in check from the many invisible injuries from the past.
The Unraveling: In 2012 as David prepared to exit the Marine Corps after almost a 14-year career, many of the invisible injuries that had been successfully held back, began to present themselves. They were no longer manageable and began affecting many of David’s daily activities and interactions. Unknown to many, this marked an intense period where he was left to deal directly with the daily experiences of being in a combat zone specifically to deal with the loss of 14 Marines during his last tour. The following 2 years were the toughest for him. There were no more recreational activities and the pleasure for the simple things in life began to dim away. Thankfully, there was an activity that he did begin to miss which was dancing. Slowly he got himself back on the dance floor. This reminded him of the enjoyment that this activity brought to him. He began to reconnect with old and make new friends. Eventually dance helped him get back on his feet. Although he continued to struggle with some injuries, he began the process to re-engage in life, to re-enforce with tools necessary to survive and thrive and begin to recover what he had lost in himself.
Having Purpose: Although David was back on the track of success, he felt that there was still something missing; a purpose. As most service members would confirm, being of service to others is one of the most honorable things an individual can do. David wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. Among other projects, David connected with the San Diego based Soldiers Who Salsa which was a veteran focused non-profit organization which used dance as recreational therapy to help wounded veterans and active duty military members. He wanted to share his passion for dance in hopes that it too would help veterans in need, as it helped him. Eventually, David was offered and accepted the position of Executive Director for Soldiers Who Salsa. Although he loved his time and the work done by the organization, he felt that the key to helping our wounded, ill and injured veterans did not lie solely on one form of recreational therapy such as dance, but on many forms of recreational activity available. He knew that although dance helped him overcome some of his adversities, there might other types of recreational activities that are the keys to helping other wounded veterans. Therefore David founded Warriors Beyond War which emphasizes on the use of various forms of recreational therapy programs versus just salsa dancing in order to reach as many veterans in need as possible and tailor fit the establishment of new programs based on the geographic need in various parts of the country. Understanding that his Soldiers Who Salsa program has already saved lives, David is ecstatic on the many possibilities that the new programs may bring to our wounded veterans in need.