Giving Veterans a Fighting Chance

Alex (Stokman) Brackett '99
Alesha Guard
Alex (Stokman) Brackett '99

Of all the challenges Alex (Stokman) Brackett ’99 faced as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, perhaps the toughest was coming home.

“Almost immediately,” Brackett says, “I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.” In addition, back pain made it hard for her to walk.

After much rehabilitation, she decided to fight back (literally) against her difficulties by returning to one of her passions: Muay Thai, a traditional form of Thai kickboxing grounded in Buddhism.

Brackett first happened upon a class in Muay Thai not long after graduating from Brandeis. She was craving regular workouts, like the ones she did as captain of the Judges’ swimming and diving team.

She fell in love with Muay Thai, which doesn’t have belts to earn or ranks to achieve. “It’s about the process, not the end state,” she explains.

Although Brackett says she spent a year “getting her butt kicked,” she progressed quickly. In 2001, she won the Women’s World Kickboxing Association U.S. championship in the lightweight division and earned a silver medal at the world championships in Austria.

But just weeks after the world championships, Brackett’s life changed profoundly. “I was in New York City during 9/11,” she says. “I tried to find my way home after the first tower collapsed. It was like walking into a war zone. Thousands of people were covered in ash and soot. It was surreal.” Feeling “so powerless that I needed to do something,” she enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Deployed to the Middle East in 2004, Brackett was soon promoted to first lieutenant and later to captain, commanding a platoon of 60 Marines who moved supplies to help overtake Fallujah. In 2005, her unit helped monitor Iraq’s first free election. Her time in the military was harrowing, she says, but she forged a close bond with her fellow Marines.

Returning home in 2006, Brackett embarked on restoring her physical and mental health through martial arts.

Eight years later, she and her husband, fellow Muay Thai fighter Josh Brackett (the couple married in a 2011 ceremony in Thailand and honeymooned at Thai boxing camps) opened their own Muay Thai gym in Peoria, Illinois.

At the gym, which attracts a diverse clientele, Brackett created a class just for former U.S. armed forces members.

“A lot of veterans don’t want to talk about feelings,” she says. “But, as we punch and kick together, I show them they can get through what they’re dealing with.” Outside the gym, she often connects them with housing or legal assistance.

Brackett’s work is being noticed. Last year, she was named a State of Illinois Women’s History Month honoree and one of InterBusiness Issues magazine’s 40 Leaders Under 40.

“Watching someone transform makes what we do all worthwhile,” she says.

— Brian Klotz