By: Sharon Aron Baron
The Department of Veteran Affairs’ 2012 Suicide Data Report states that approximately 22 veterans take their own life every day. One organization believes that is 22 Too Many and have launched a nationally organized, grass roots effort to raise awareness for the veteran suicide epidemic and ask the public to join them in a rally in Coral Springs.
Volunteer Chris Gordon, a longtime resident of Coral Springs who served in the US Army from 1994 to 1999, stateside at Fort Campbell, KY as a Communications Equipment Operator and Maintainer got involved with the “22 Too Many” campaign about three months ago. That is when he came across the website of a new organization called Team Rubicon who was looking for Veterans to unite their skills with first responders so that they could rapidly deploy emergency response teams to areas hit usually by natural disasters. This organization breathed life back in to the skill-set that he had buried the year before. “This was exactly what I was looking for as I knew that the next time our community was hit by a hurricane, I would have the opportunity to use this training again.” He quickly registered as a member.
This is where he thought this story would end.
As a member of Team Rubicon he was invited in to a private Facebook group with other members. Gordon would drift in and out of the group until one day he saw a post about 22 Veterans losing their lives to suicide every day. His first thought was, “How is that even possible. That is around 660 a month, or 8,030 a year?” It made him wonder why the news only covered the soldier deaths overseas, and not the ones on American soil?
The post also mentioned that they wanted to do a rally or silent vigil in Florida in December, but they weren’t sure where they could do it. He quickly posted that he could help bring it to Coral Springs. “As busy as I was, certainly I could take one hour to go stand at an intersection to bring awareness to this tragedy.”
His invitation was received with excitement, so he waited for them to organize it. However, December quickly came, and about a week in to the month, he went back to the group to ask the status of the event. It would seem that the leadership was overwhelmed with the growth of the “22 Too Many” movement and Gordon was asked if he would be willing to host it this once.
On December 22, 2014, Gordon stood out in front of Wings Plus on Sample Road and waited for the attendees. One veteran showed up, Trevor Misisco, who he believes served in the Navy in the early 70s.
The two of them walked down the sidewalk of Sample Road towards University to stand for the 22 Vets who would die that day. Gordon said that he was thankful that Trevor had showed up and that he would not stand alone. As they walked, he tried to hide his embarrassment, as he knew that veterans certainly deserved more than this.
Both Trevor and him, held their signs on the southeast corner of University and Sample Road for about 15 minutes until Gordon caught a young man across the street heading towards them in fatigue pants and a dark shirt. A few minutes later, a friend of his also joined them.
The first young man was Hipolito Arriaga III and the second young man was Andrew Cuthbert, both Marines, and recent Iraq and Afghanistan War Vets. Both stood next to him with what he described was a “1,000 mile stare that seemed to look through everything that was in front of them.” This was a stare that he would later encounter in other war veterans.
Gordon quickly realized that they were not attending “his” event, and they certainly were not standing for him. They were standing for something that he would not ever fully be able to wrap his head around. “They were standing for their brothers and sisters they lost to war on some foreign land and the ones that they were losing everyday on their own soil.”
As the hour went by, there was some casual conversation and although it wasn’t said specifically, it seemed obvious that they were grateful that Gordon would be willing to stand with them. “I did not feel worthy, but it was an honor to stand next to these American Heroes,” he said.
Want a chance to stand with our Veterans? Be there on Sunday, February 22 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., they will be holding their third “22 Too Many” event. The event will start at Wings Plus at 9880 W Sample Rd, Coral Springs, FL 33065. Please park behind the restaurant.