Men running from Boston to Atlanta for veterans at risk of suicide

COBB COUNTY, Ga. —

Local veterans are running from Boston to Atlanta to support veterans with brain injuries.

They are running with 22-pound vests on for 9 days to help carry the load for veterans who come home with brain injuries.

Many of the Shepherd’s Men are active duty or veterans.

[Follow the Shepherd’s Men’s journey on their Facebook page]

“We’re running from Boston to Atlanta in hopes to spread our word and raise awareness on suicides,” Travis Ellis, founder of Shepherd’s Men, said.

Ellis said he watched his friends suffer and decided he had to step up.

“The signature injury from Afghan and Iraq wars is traumatic brain injury, Ellis told Channel 2’s Linda Stouffer. “That’s what we’re running for, to help combat that raise awareness for this program that treats TBI and PTSD and help see it expand.”

“It’s also unacceptable for 22-plus veterans to take their lives. We’re fighting to help save a generation, to ensure another generation such as our Vietnam brothers and sisters is not lost,” he added.

The Shepherd’s Men are running to help make sure more injured veterans can walk into a unique program at the Shepherd Center that offers comprehensive therapy at no cost.

The Shepherd Center SHARE military initiative battles traumatic brain injuries and PTSD to put men back on a healthy path.

In 2015, SHARE helped almost 50 people. Shepherd’s Men are trying to double that by running the equivalent of a half marathon every day for 9 days with the 22-pound vest.

They have a goal to raise $1 million.

“Being a marine is like a brotherhood, a bond you can’t put into context “Walter Marques with Shepherd’s Men said. “I’m here to share the burden.”

For more information about Shepherd’s Men and how you can help them reach their goal, visit to their website.

 

The local VFW is updating its look and services to reach more veterans

By Aimee Jones 11/12/15 | aimee.jones@rockdalecitizen.com

 

CONYERS — He’s only been post commander a few months, but Gene Schell with VFW Post 5290 in Conyers has put into place a renovation project with other ground-breaking ideas that will reintroduce the post to the public but, more importantly, provide much-needed services for combat veterans living in the local area.

“We need to improve business to increase revenue so we can fulfill our missions,” said Schell, who took over as post commander in August after first joining the VFW at the first of the year.

The VFW was established near the turn of the 20th century and serves as an advocacy organization for veterans. It was instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, created GI Bills for the 20th and 21st centuries, developed the national cemetery system and worked to provide support for veterans returning from war.

Locally, the VFW has served not only as outreach for veterans, but also to provide a place for veterans to congregate with those with shared experiences. Schell said that the membership includes a wide range of veterans, some who are older, in their 70s, to others who are in their 20s, having recently returned from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Schell said that transitioning from the military to civilian life can be challenging and unsettling for many veterans.

“When you get out of the Army, there are no instructions about what to do or who to see if you need help,” he said. “But when you join the military, you are given instructions every day.”

He said it can be a serious injustice for veterans who are getting out of the military and they feel they have no one to show them how to complete a resume, no one to explain about the Veterans Administration to get health care and other benefits.

“I didn’t know for 20 years that I could get a free drivers license. It was three more years before I learned I could get a license plate for my truck,” said Schell, who served in the National Guard before joining the U.S. Army where he fought in Desert Storm.

“We offer camaraderie and a safe place,” he said.

Providing this outreach for veterans is a core service provided by the VFW. A job fair was held recently and a Christmas toy drive will take place in December. But, more is to be done, and Schell said it’s important to raise the profile of the local chapter by appealing to younger veterans and encouraging the public to become involved.

Schell said the No. 1 priority is to update the facility.

“We’re not generating enough revenue to get into the community to do anything,” he said.

Schell said he recently visited a local veteran who had served 14 years in the military. Schell said the veteran has been looking for another job for many months because the one he has does not cover the rent.

Schell said when he went to the man’s home, “there was not a bit of food in the cupboard. He has a wife and six kids.”

Schell said he will not allow that to happen again.

Among his more immediate goals is to restore the VFW’s kitchen and be able to open a food bank and possibly a soup kitchen to serve veterans.

Longer term, Schell said he envisions using the 21 acres the VFW owns to build transitional housing for veterans. He said that single, homeless veterans can go to Fort McPherson in East Point, but there is no place for those veterans with a wife and children.

But the first order of business is to update the nearly 85-year-old building located on VFW Drive, both inside and out.

“This building has been here since the late 1930s and this is its first major facelift,” Schell said.

Earlier this year, the bar area was expanded with an updated look including a stage, sound system and new lights.

July 4 was the kickoff of the grand re-opening of the VFW facilities after the renovation of the bar, complete with a live band and $1,000 worth of donated fireworks displayed over the lake that sits on the 21-acre property – a hidden feature of the VFW Post that is located between Green Street and Dogwood Drive, just outside of Olde Town Conyers.

Last week, crews from Joe Solomon’s The Rock Masonry Company were busy installing stone donated by Brad Poynter from Fieldstone Center to the one-story building.

Bingo, a staple of VFW entertainment, is still held in the large banquet room, which now has a new snack bar. But that space, too, is due for an upgrade, said Schell.

In addition to renovating the banquet hall, an adjacent room is also slated for upgrades and improvements to accommodate smaller events.

Schell said the bar, which has live bands each Saturday, poker and bingo nights are open to the public – and indeed, he said, the public is encouraged to attend.

“We are a nonprofit organization and we need the public to help support our mission,” he said.

The current membership of the local VFW post stands around 525, a mere fraction of how many combat veterans Schell said he believes live in the east metro Atlanta area.

“This is the best-kept secret in Conyers,” said Schell.

Many of the ongoing projects at the VFW are being completed by veterans who volunteer their time, as well as through donations by some local businesses, like Fieldstone and The Rock Masonry. But more help is needed.

A catered gala is scheduled for sometime in February, which will serve as a fundraiser for many of the projects Schell has in mind.

Lifetime memberships to the VFW are also available – “It would make a great Christmas gift,” he said — at a reasonable price.

ByFor more information about the VFW, call 770-483-7443. A website will be online soon, said Schell.

Conyers VFW quartermaster recalls his days in Vietnam

Article By: Pete Mecca, 12/12/11 |

CONYERS — Arriving ‘in-country’ during the infamous communist Tet Offensive of February 1968, Vince Przybyszewski experienced the complexity of the war called Vietnam.

“My first stop was Vung Tau in the Mekong Delta. The guys were having a barbeque during operations,” he said. “I was handed a plate of chicken and a cold beer at the same time a damaged Huey gunship force-landed with its hydraulics shot out, a door gunner with leg wounds and three fingers missing, the co-pilot shot-up and bleeding, and I’m standing there with a plate of barbequed chicken and a cold beer thinking, ‘What the hell have I gotten into?'”

Przybyszewski found out soon enough. At 31 years old, he was the “old man” among 18- and 19-year old warriors. The Conyers resident studied animal husbandry at Long Island Agriculture and Technical Institute after attending high school in his native New York City. He had a change in careers when U.S. Navy recruiters visited his campus looking for aviators.

After ground school in Pensacola, Przybyszewski gained piloting skills at Saufley Field on T-34s before receiving advanced flight training on T-28s that included formation flying, instrument training and gunnery.

Sent back to Pensacola, he mastered helicopters before being assigned to icebreakers in Antarctica.

“I flew Bell H-47s choppers and the H-19s in some darn cold weather,” he said. Przybyszewski later sailed the Mediterranean and coast of Africa aboard a Marine amphibious ship.

He was eventually assigned to a little-known but feisty unit designated as HAL-3 (helicopter attack, light, 3rd squadron) and better known as the Seawolves.

Sent to Vinh Long, Przybyszewski navigated a Huey gunship above the murky waters and Communist controlled villages of the Mekong Delta.

“We always flew in pairs,” he explained. “We covered each other.”

Mostly flying at treetop level during combat, the Seawolves attacked and destroyed enemy sampans and ammo-laded vessels, implanted and extracted Navy Seals, coordinated close support air strikes with South Vietnamese advisors, and dodged enemy fire.

“We took rounds through our overhead panels on occasion,” Przybyszewski said. “But luckily none of my crew was ever hit.”

As lead pilot, Przybyszewski controlled and fired 2.75 rockets from two weapons pods; the co-pilot controlled four M-60 flex-machine guns on each side of the fuselage, and two door gunners provided covering fire from two M-60s.

“The 18- and 19-year-old door gunners were my heroes,” he said. “The young men would stand exposed on the outside skids during combat to fire directly below our chopper; they were veterans in no time. Intense combat does that to you.”

Sent back to Vung Tau to fly as a maintenance test pilot, Przybyszewski took up a Huey with reported “strange noises and vibrations” when disaster struck.

“I had a full crew aboard. We were up 600 feet when the short shaft failed between the engine and rotor, meaning we lost power,” he said.

The Huey plummeted straight down. Przybyszewski recalled, “We crashed inverted (upside down). My crew came out OK, but I was pretty banged up.”

Luckily a Med-evac chopper had witnessed the crash. Hospitalized within a remarkable 15 minutes, Przybyszewski suffered compressed vertebrae, facial lacerations, a broken wrist, and had rods and pins inserted into a crushed right ankle.

“Yep,” he said. “They sort of pinned me back together.”

His war was over. Rehab took six months.

After his recovery Przybyszewski finished his service as a flight instructor on H-57 choppers at Ellison Field. He left the Navy in 1970 with 40 percent disability.

Reflecting on what it takes to fly into combat, Przybyszewski said, “Your training is the key, but so is the courageous heart of the pilot. You have to be willing to go in when common sense tells you not to, but you do, because your Band of Brothers is down there needing your help.”

Przybyszewski returned to college and earned a master’s degree in microbiology. Employed as a research microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control, he received a commission with the uniformed Public Health Service, retiring after 30 years of active duty with the rank of commander. Now quartermaster for the Conyers VFW, he said of his duties, “I’m busy as hell sorting out problems.”

The United States Congress passed a resolution last year to honor the veterans and families of HAL-3. Disestablished in March 1972 after six years of existence, the unique squadron entered naval aviation history.

The 3,000 HAL-3 veterans lost 44 aviators; earned 156 Purple Hearts, 31 Silver Stars, five Navy Crosses, 101 Bronze Stars, 219 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and several other commendations that feasibly made it the most decorated Navy squadron during the Vietnam War.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran and author of “A Veteran’s Story,” a regular feature of the Citizen. Contact him at petemecca@gmail.com.

 

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