By Justin Fitch
Why is Active Heroes (a 501c3, registered non-profit charity) important to me? Their mission is to give Veterans and their families multiple tools and resources to reduce the effects of PTSD and eliminate trigger points that lead to Veteran suicide. This is a very real issue. According to multiple reports and sources, currently over 22 Veterans commit suicide a day. Our mission is to get that number as close to zero as possible. Active Heroes has partnered with other organizations, such as Home Depot, to make this a possibility. Active Heroes provides wounded warriors in financial need with lifetime endowment funds to augment the meager disability checks they receive, and even home modifications such as handicap accessible ramps, lowered cabinets for those in wheelchairs, and handicap accessible bathrooms.
Active Heroes is a new charity, and they are growing rapidly. They are not using donations or revenue to market for the sake of marketing. For example; some so-called Veteran charities spend all their revenue on t-shirts just to get their name out their without helping anyone. Active Heroes has shirts and hats also, but if someone wants to wear them, they buy them through a third-party vendor where some of the money goes back to Active Heroes.
As an Active Duty Military Leader, I have seen first-hand the effects of the military lifestyle on my subordinate, peer, superior and separated warriors. It is a real problem. Luckily, I have been able to at least see a portion of these issues in my brothers and sisters and do what I can to help. Others choose to keep quiet due to stigma. Others separate from the military and find themselves in social circles where none of their friends can understand the hardships of both peace and wartime military service. This makes their support network very small. If they are not comfortable talking to those they know, they are usually limited to mechanically ineffective and often automated suicide support hotlines or to make mental health appointments with the Department of Veterans Affairs, who will often place that high-risk Veteran on up to a two-month wait list before being seen, often too late.
A good friend of mine, Boone Cutler, said it best, a Veteran with these sort of issues needs two things to deal: 1) a battle buddy and 2) a mission. The lack of battle buddy in these at-risk Vets is covered above. Also, these Vets live their life with a sense of purpose to do good things that truly matter. When they get out, they may fail to feel the sense of purpose of what they do. Enter Active Heroes. Active Heroes allows individuals or groups of people to come together to push themselves through amazing challenges, demanding challenges, to accomplish important and amazing things. Veterans realize the worth of hard work’s importance. Veterans realize the importance of helping their brothers and sisters in need. This is their mission. To reduce 22 to zero.
Personally, I have been battling stage 4 colon cancer for over 1.5 years. Seven surgical procedures and 28 treatments of chemotherapy. It has not been easy. It has put me in some very dark places as a Soldier. After my last surgery, I knew that I had to push like hell to physically rehabilitate so I can stay true to my creed “I will never quit” and I found the perfect way to do stay true to this part of my creed “I will never leave a fallen comrade”. After months of training, I ruckmarched 60lbs for six hours in a relay to raise funds. I felt how good and how motivating it was to help others duringn my journey. However, I had no training partners or anyone else doing the same thing I was doing. Something was missing. Shortly thereafter, I heard about an innovative mission that seemed nothing short than an answer to my prayer. A visionary Veteran, Darren Nichols, got with the Active Heroes’ founder, Troy Yocum to create Carry the Fallen, a subsidiary mission of Active Heroes.
Carry the Fallen, an elite 12 hour ruckmarch with teams across the world carrying 50+lbs to raise money to prevent Vet suicides by creating a first-of its kind retreat for Families and Veterans dealing with PTSD and suicidal concerns, was the mission. I joined aggressively and told myself that no matter how ridiculous it sounded that I was doing this with my injuries, limitations, and ongoing chemotherapy, that I would accomplish this mission. I started rucking like crazy. I would ruck ten miles to work with ever increasing weights on my back. I encouraged others to donate. I encouraged other to join. I became obsessed with it. I knew this would be one of the most important missions in my life…. Even if I did not raise a penny, I would raise awareness to ensure my comrades never got left behind and I would not quit. I would not accept defeat. It was hard. I felt alone at first. Quickly, my growing number of teammates supported me mentally and inspirationally. People from all over the world supported me. People cared. Even though it is not about me, it is about those we are trying to help, our team and I gathered growing publicity from the press and social media. We were succeeding in our mission. Awareness grew and money poured in. It do continues to. I do not want to sound grim, but if my cancer killed me today, I know that I made an impact and a legacy for others to follow. That provides me a strong sense of peace through some of my darker days.
My team, team minuteman, raised over $34k in a matter of months. I raised over $17k in a matter of months. Carry the Fallen raised over $100k in a few months; their initial goal was maybe $5k. Blown away!
The ruckmarch was not easy. We had so much support, that it made it seem easy. We had a famous country singer, Shanna Jackman, show up to the ruckathon start line in freezing temperatures to sing the National Anthem, we had police escorts to raise awareness and keep us safe, residents along the route came out to cheer us, coworkers and friends joined to walk along our side, they brought us drinks, food, and needed supplies, they motivated us. Our team was a mix of young, old, Veterans and civilians, Active troops and college students, etc. It was great to see everyone caring and talking and bonding throughout the march. It was not easy for anyone, and we all built a comradery and friendship from our previous and ongoing discussions. We pushed each other. We knew the importance of our cause and did not let ourselves or each other quit. We did it. Jason Wheeler, a disabled veteran on a wheelchair strapped 50+ pounds in the back of his chair and crushed our pace! A 14 year old high-school man (I refuse to call him a kid after this), did this with only two weeks of training to be my battle buddy (typical son of a ranger), Denise Florio, a cancer patient Veteran also joined along my side. These people refused to let me quit. I am forever thankful. Everyone was amazing, including Heather InSpira, who went on to not just so the 26.2 miles everyone did, but she rucked all the way back to the start line (for a total of 52.4 miles!!!!).
Talk about motivation. Talk about heart. Talk about caring. Talk about comradery. Talk about battle buddies and mission.
Our mission is not over yet. We are doing four more Carry the Fallen rucks this year. Please join or support us. http://carrythefallen.org
Join our Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/carrythefallen