Ronald Cobb, DMin, LCAC, is a man of many talents. He is an addictions counselor, retired army colonel, ordained minister, author and a part-time rancher.
He’s also one of The Menninger Clinic’s loyal donors – giving to The Clinic for more than 20 years.
Supporting Menninger is important to Cobb, who trained at Menninger and counseled patients in Menninger’s Professionals program from 1996 to 2001. He saw patients get better faster when they reconnected with their spiritual nature, not necessarily their religion, but a power greater than themselves. The experience deepened his understanding of the power of spirituality in recovery.
Over the years, Cobb has harnessed that power to treat patients struggling with trauma and addiction here in the United States and across the world.
“One of the sayings we had at Menninger and I have in my own clinic is, ‘Without spiritual recovery, there’s no recovery,’” Cobb says.
Spirituality is the cornerstone of 12-step addiction recovery programs and was also espoused by Menninger founder Dr. Karl Menninger. A healthy spiritual life continues to be an essential part of Menninger’s holistic treatment approach, which also addresses the mind, body and relationships.
“When you have a loving higher power, you learn to love and forgive yourself,” Cobb says. “Forgiving everybody else, not accepting what they did, but forgiving them and letting go, and forgiving your past mistakes are the core of recovery for mental health disorders and addiction issues.”
An Extraordinary Career
Spirituality has long been at the core of Cobb’s own life. He has been an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 50 years, pastoring seven different churches.
A true polymath, Cobb loves history, religion and culture. He holds master’s degrees on Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn and on 17th century Quakers. He’s a graduate of Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, where he was trained in asymmetric warfare — how to fight against tactics used in terrorism. And in the 1980s he thoroughly studied Islam, and then led a well-attended eight-week educational lecture series on Islam and Christianity.
Together, this combination of seemingly disparate interests and experiences paved the way for an extraordinary career in addiction recovery.
Cobb first began treating soldiers for addictions in 1974, as an Army chaplain. For several decades he has counseled countless men and women struggling with drinking and drugs. While an addiction therapist at Menninger he worked with Dr. Richard Irons, “an incredible force of nature,” who inspired him to have his own clinic. He also became a licensed clinical addiction counselor during his time at Menninger.
“I had a wonderful six years at Menninger,” Cobb says.
A Beacon of Hope
Then 9/11 happened.
When the first tower fell, Cobb, a colonel chaplain in the Army National Guard and senior addictions counselor at Menninger, was driving to work. A few hours later, he was counseling senior leaders of the 42nd Infantry Division from New York, stuck in Fort Leavenworth while all the nation’s transportation stopped. Many of the soldiers had family, friends or neighbors who worked in the World Trade Center, or who were first responders. They were reeling from loss and grief. When the transportation ban lifted, those same soldiers guarded New York City in the days following the attack.
Cobb was called to active duty in October 2001. As command chaplain for the 35th Division, he later served as senior chaplain at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Cobb was well-suited for the position, as he was the only senior officer in his division who had studied the Quran and Islam.
At the time, Bosnia was still recovering from the brutal Bosnian war, which had killed an estimated 100,000 people and displaced millions. Many people turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, especially Muslim Bosnians who had survived the violence and horror of ethnic cleansing.
“They had so much trauma, they formed their own Islamic support groups for Bosnian soldiers. I asked them, ‘Would it be okay if I took some Alcoholics Anonymous books in and led an AA meeting?’” Cobb says. He led the first AA meeting in the history of Tuzla.
Cobb took a translation of the 12 steps of AA and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to Mufti Hussein Kavazovic, the Islamic leader in the area, and explained the steps. Twelve-step programs, with their emphasis on spirituality, were not allowed when the country was Yugoslavia, and both communist and atheist. The Mufti asked Cobb to teach his Imams the 12 steps, Cobb says.
“The Bosnian veterans had started using drugs and drinking alcohol to hide from their trauma, just like Vietnam soldiers. Alcoholics Anonymous was a beacon of hope for them.”
Now, there are many AA and NA meetings in Bosnia. Mufti Kavazovic also set up a treatment center for heroin addicts funded by the Islamic Society of Tuzla, with Cobb’s encouragement.
Cobb wrote a book about the experience, “Memories of Bosnia: the 35th Division’s SFOR 13 NATO Peacekeeping Mission 2004.” He has written three other books on Islam, spirituality and recovery.
After Cobb retired from the Army, he returned to Kansas. Today he runs a counseling clinic, called Hope for Life, for individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction and other mental health disorders in Holton, Kansas, 30 miles north of Topeka. He’s also a part-time pastor for the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Horton and spends time on his 73-acre ranch, in the Little Osage River Valley, overseeing his small herd of beef cattle grazing. Family life also keeps him busy. He and his wife, Kathleen, together have four children, five grandsons and one granddaughter.
Cobb looks back fondly on the role Menninger played in his life.
“I’m 76, and could easily retire, but I have so many experiences that can help people stay clean and sober and stable. I want to keep going,” Cobb says.