The War Within

By Hilary Achauer

In LEO/Mil, Rest Day/Theory

February 10, 2013

PDF Article

Veteran and affiliate owner Atom Ziniewicz struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and bipolar disorder. He ultimately lost his battle, but he fought with his CrossFit community at his back.

On Sept. 21, 2012, 34-year-old Atom Ziniewicz faced down two Alaska State Troopers near Mile 270 of the Parks Highway in Fairbanks, Alaska. The former Green Beret, CrossFit athlete, coach and owner of CrossFit Liberation was armed with a handgun. Earlier in the day, he had shot and wounded 21-year-old Brenton Green and then disappeared. The police began a search, combing the area and establishing checkpoints along the highway.

Ziniewicz had spent the last year fighting a losing battle with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. His life back home in Virginia was spiraling out of control.

“I’m not like this,” he had told ex-wife Carrie Satterlee before he left.

“I can’t quiet this noise in my head,” he had told good friend and fellow coach Scott Horton.

Deep down, Satterlee thinks he found the escape he was looking for in Alaska.

“I think he was looking for a way out,” she said. “Given his background, he knew what the response (of the police) would be.”

Four hours after the Green shooting, Ziniewicz appeared. He came out of the woods, about 30 yards away from the two troopers. Ziniewicz drew his gun, and the trooper fired. Ziniewicz was killed.

The voices, finally, were quiet.

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15 Comments on “The War Within”


wrote …

I wish you peace in your next life, Atom! ~Semper Fidelis


wrote …

I had the privilege of meeting Atom at a seminar. I had an opportunity to talk shop with him over lunch and train side by side with him during the seminar. From my brief meeting I have nothing but respect for Atom. Thank you for your service and may your pain be calmed and freed.


wrote …

This is a tragic story and despite the fact that there was a strong community supporting him, you need the institutions and governments to do their part as well.

Respect and rest in peace Atom.


Zach Even - Esh wrote …

Man, this stuff breaks my heart, really does :(


wrote …

I feel for Mr. Brenton Green. Hope he has healed and can carry on in his life.
Since I former infantryman with the 82nd, there is plenty of help for those he seek it.


replied to comment from Michael Verton

Dear Mr Verton
First and foremost I want to thank you for your service to our country.
Secondly I'm sorry, but I must disagree with your perception of the "plenty of help" you say is available to those soldiers who seek it. If you had checked the facts in the article that Hilary Achauer wrote about the lack of assistance to vets experiencing "mental illness" you would find that there is very little help available. If a soldier is disabled, shot or loses a limb etc., then YES! There is lots of assistance for them. But NOT for PTSD. Look it up. You'll be surprised.
As for convicted drug dealer Brenton Green, who was released from jail last April and only suffered superficial flesh wounds from Atom Ziniewicz,(He was treated and released the same day as the shooting)He recovered well and his friends and family have continued to periodically harass Atom's family via facebook and through posts on the website of Atom's CrossFit Gym. They are indeed a very special group of folks. We'd like to ask Brenton what happened to the $2000+ dollars cash Atom had on his person at the time of their encounter. No cash was recovered from the crime scene.
So you see Mr Verton, things aren't always as cut and dried as they seem. Unfortunately Atom didn't live to be able to tell the police his side of the story. Only Brenton Green and his friend Kimberly Scharber know what really happened. We were told by Fairbanks State Police during a debriefing after Atom's death that they knew the two kids were "withholding" information and were hopeful to get to the bottom of it at some point.
Atom wasn't perfect. He suffered from a mental illness that drove him to make some bad decisions. But he was a good person deep down. He was loved by many.
Again Sir, I thank you for your service to our country.


replied to comment from Mike Newsome

My apologizes to my partner Mike Newsome. My name is Scott Horton. I wrote the response to Mr. Verton and unfortunately forgot that I was logged into the CF Journal under Mikes name until after I clicked the submit key.


wrote …

I am very sorry to read about the tragic end to Atom's life. As a former Navy psychologist with significant experience in substance abuse, PTSD and other mental disorders please contact me if you or anyone you know needs help. My number is 949-533-6075 or You can also follow some of the posts on Facebook for integrated-recovery. RIP Atom and thank you for your service.


wrote …

Mr. Newsome/Horton,

First, I apologize if I offended you. I am not taking anything away from Atom or his military career. I just find it odd glorifying a man who shot another man. You say Green was a drug dealer... I don't know that. I guess I missed it in the article. Either way, in the end, I find it troubling to glorify what was going on.

I can tell you only from my military experience and from the assistance I received. When I was deployed to Afghanistan, my unit had us speak with an Air Force Psychologist in order to understand and discuss what was going on during our missions. When we returned from deployement, my unit had us attend 2 days worth of sessions with psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers in the local Ft. Bragg area. Now, all these sessions were forced on us. I say this because I recognize their is a negative stigma in the infantry for a soldier to seek mental health assistance. So, I am sure Atom being a SF soldier experienced the same stigma.

However, at the end of my enlistment, a part of the transition sessions, we have the ability to see a mental health professional. This is on our choice. So, there are options to seek help if someone truly wants help.

Now, as a veteran, there is the VA. Some people say it is bad, I had/have a great response from the VA. I fought hard against PTSD. I said I did not have it and though people who did were weak minded. Oh to the contrary, I was the one who was weak minded. Once I recognized that, I contacted the VA every week until I could get weekly visits with a doctor. I wanted help, so I seeked help. There are other oganizations that provide help as well such as,, & Plus many more sites, so there is help out there. Simple google searches find this information. you can call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press "1" to talk with a professional, or 1-888-777-4443. But, the caveat is, the individual truly must want help. Ron Gellis(949-533-6075 or, thanks for providing more contact information too.

I read the article about the drinking and up and down mood swings. I felt for Atom. I had similar reactions. But, I had friends and loved ones who confronted me about my drinking. Drinking never helps anything, so that added to things.

Like I said, I know nothing of Green and thought the article simplty said Atom shot him twice. No reason why. If there is, I missed it. Since, I love my country, love my military, I take offense when claims state there is no help for soldiers. I sought to find help and help was available.


wrote …

I feel for Atom. It is easy to think the worst of someone when you have never experienced a mental disorder.

Speaking as an LEO my heart goes out to the two troopers. Having to shoot someone is something that you never forget. Hug the ones you love and tell them what they mean to you for you never know when your/their time is up.


wrote …

i hope Atom has found peace at last and i thank him for his service to his country and to crossfit.


replied to comment from Mike Newsome

There are MASSIVE amounts of help for veterans who claim to have PTSD.

As a Military professional who work around trauma frequently I see PTSD every day. I also see a VA symptom that virtually begs a war fighter to claim PTSD upon discharge from active duty to increase funding and receive lifelong benefits for the Veteran's Administration to receive more money. There is help if one seeks it, and Alaska has a large system for veterans who decide to reside there, Elmendorf, Ft. Rich, Ft. Wainright, Eielson, they might just be logistically difficult due to distance inherent with living in the state (been there, done that).

So people are aware. How easy is it to get a diagnosis of PTSD?

There have been instances of civilians getting diagnosis of PTSD from watching the planes hit the towers and there subsequent response to that experience. Would you like to see tax dollars being spent in amounts this large? At what cost? Where are we taking money from?

How much money are we throwing at the issue?

This guy should be thanked for his service, and pitied for how his life ended abruptly and prematurely. Throwing taxpayer money at an issue that is a bureaucratic nightmare is not always (if ever) the answer.


wrote …

I have to say shooting a 21yr old is unacceptable. Traumatic stress is not a taboo subject anymore. This article makes it seem as if Atom`s actions were the result of his environment.

We all make the choice to serve. On the traumatic sensibility spectrum we have swung way too far way away from personal responsibility.

No one said being a warrior diplomat is easy. Seek help if you must and never give up. Most of all, don`t go shooting other people because you have a problem.

Good luck in your struggle boys. Don`t follow Atoms lead.


replied to comment from Mike Newsome

Mike - if you claim those statements as facts you need to be able to prove them with sources. None of what you said is true, and I'd like you to show us where any of what you said can be corroborated.

1. Convicted drug dealer? Seriously? Point us to the court record - those are public records so you shouldn't have any problem finding it; except when it doesn't exist. Brent's past has only minor traffic infractions, how did you manage to contort that?

2. Superficial flesh wounds? He was shot twice at close range. The person who treated Brent admitted he didn't know how to treat gunshot wounds and proceeded to sew him up. Brent was discharged but had to be re-admitted into another hospital's Emergency Room days later for infections from the improperly treated wounds. He spent days in the hospital recovering.

3. $2000 cash - How could you possibly know that Atom had any cash with him that night? If you had such personal information it could only be possible because you spoke with him that evening, which I'm pretty sure you didn't.

I can understand that people will sympathize with Atom because they knew him, or because they understand the plight of PTSD, or know how difficult treatment for a mental diagnosis can be. What I don't understand is why ANYONE decides that a victim who was shot by Atom has to be denigrated and turned into a villain like this.

Be a better man and don't disparage someone you don't know.


replied to comment from Mike Newsome

I can't edit my earlier comment, but it looks like my response should have been directed at Scott, not Mike.

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