The American Legion Department of Georgia’s 1st District held its first Team “Be the One” Charles Williams Veterans Retreat on Nov. 5. The event centered on The American Legion’s “Be the One” campaign to address and eliminate the stigma associated with mental health wellness and thereby reducing the rate of veteran suicide. The retreat included a class on PTSD and suicide awareness, yoga and meditation, and a PTSD “rock hike.”
The retreat was named in honor of Charles “Charlie” Williams, a World War II veteran who fought under General Patton in the Battle of the Bulge. Following his Army service, he was an active member of The American Legion for 75 years. He passed away on July 16, 2022, at the age of 102. His sons, Rick and Bobby, daughters in law, Sue and Gail, and grandson, Brent, were present at the event to receive the honor.
“It’s an honor,” the family said. “He’s no longer with us, but his name and legacy will go on.”
1st District Commander Casey Nash developed the idea to bring her district together for this event because of the impact a retreat she attended at the beginning of her own PTSD treatment had on her.
“I felt that the 1st District really needed something to help open them up and develop more camaraderie,” she said. “There was a lot of friendship, but not a lot of camaraderie and communication between the posts in the district. I really think that enlightening people on my experience in the Legion and in the military really helps bring in younger veterans. It also gives a woman’s point of view on why more women should come into the Legion.”
For Nash, the Be the One campaign is deeply personal. Nash is a suicide survivor. She previously shared her personal story on Legiontown, where she talked about her visits to American Legion posts within the 1st District and how she began to share her story of why she joined The American Legion.
“I always get asked, ‘How do we get younger members to join? Why did you join?’ And for the longest time, I avoided answering,” she wrote.
When Nash began sharing her “why,” fellow Legionnaires began to reach back, including Legion Rider Jeff Tuck.
“Casey and I are both survivors of suicide,” Tuck said.
Tuck’s friend, Rick Moss, introduced him to The American Legion and the American Legion Riders during a time when Tuck was looking for purpose.
“I had always been looking for a way to be with veterans, but I started with motorcycle clubs to see if I could find that yearning I had,” said Tuck. “Then Rick came to me and said, ‘Tuck, I think I’ve got what you need.’”
It was joining Post 135 and the Legion Riders that showed Tuck what it really meant to help veterans.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are alone and they don’t know that they have us,” Tuck said. “When I hear people hurting … we’re veterans. We have to take care of each other.
“I can relate when it comes to feeling alone and angry. When people are at the end and feel like they have nothing else, they have us. It starts with us.”
Both Harley riders, Tuck and Moss say that in itself can help build the connections that can end up saving lives.
“We love people and we love reaching people,” Moss said. “We love reaching people that are sometimes unreachable by others. You pull up with a Harley and everybody is your best friend.”
“There’s a lot of bikers that are veterans,” Tuck added. “And that’s where we are trying to reach out to bring more veterans from the biker world into the Legion.”
District PTSD Coordinator and Post 116 Senior Vice Commander Laura Howard taught the PTSD and suicide awareness class. She addressed the stigma servicemembers and veterans face when it comes to a mental health diagnosis. Anywhere between 9% and 30% of active and reserve servicemembers have a mental health disorder and many are reluctant to seek care due to the perceived stigma.
Veterans continue to see suicide rates nearly 50% higher than non-veteran adults.
“We cannot continue to afford to lose our veterans like this,” said Department of Georgia Commander William “Bill” Simmons. “We need to continue to bring this to the front and make sure these veterans do not fall by the wayside.
“The effort is as important as the outcome,” he added.
Near the end of the retreat, the steady rain broke and Nash handed each Legionnaire a rock.
“Place your burdens on these rocks,” she said and led them down to the lake.
“Now throw them away.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 then press 1 for veterans or visit veteranscrisisline.net/. For emergency mental health care, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7 regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care.