American Legion Post 14 in Bozeman, Mont., is answering the call to Be the One. The post worked with Montana State University (MSU) Veteran Support Center, MSU School of Art and the MT 988 Project to promote suicide prevention-themed challenge coins that aim to increase awareness of suicide and resources available to help those in crisis.
More than 30 challenge coins were created by MSU graphic design students that feature Montana 988 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number) on one side then 988+1 (Veterans Crisis Line) on the other side. As a top five state in the U.S. for suicides per capita, the MT 988 Project was created to provide suicide awareness and empowers people to ask for help. Each MSU graphic design student was given three challenge coins – one to keep and two for an MSU veteran student to have and give to veterans in need. The graphic design students had input from veterans on the design of their respective challenge coin, including help from Post 14 Public Relations Officer Rick Gale.
“I worked with a student by the name of Erica Oborsky on a design that represents the beauty of Montana while providing resources to both veterans and civilians. The sky may be big, but you’re not alone,” Gale said, adding that it was great to sit down with the students and share his miliary and career background, a conversation that led to the creation of the coin pictured above. Gale was a crisis hostage negotiator for Irvine (Calif.) Police Department and for the National Park Service. He too a park ranger at Yellowstone National Park for many summers, and Oborsky has a special connection to Yellowstone as well, so that’s why there is a spruce tree behind the State of Montana on the coin.
“How can you be a part of (Be the One) in your own way with the messaging and this really fit well,” Gale said. “With that kind of a background as far as intervention and talking to people on the phone, it was a fit looking at Be the One campaign and the suicide prevention messaging for veterans.”
Gale and Post 14 member Bethany West promoted several of the challenge coins and American Legion Be the One suicide prevention materials on June 8 during the premiere of “Mending the Line” at the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture in Bozeman. The film features a Marine veteran wounded in Afghanistan who meets a Vietnam veteran at a VA facility in Montana who teaches him how to fly fish as a support mechanism for his emotional and physical trauma from war.
“We thought what a great place to highlight what The American Legion is doing as far as the messaging (to end veteran suicide) and to display the challenge coins,” Gale said. “We were thanked again and again for promoting Montana 988 plus 1. We were especially moved when a couple thanked us and shared that their son, who was a veteran, had recently committed suicide, and that was a moment in time that we will never forget.”
Besides the film premiere, Gale has been traveling with the coin display to showcase at various meetings and organizations that support mental health. “It’s been exciting to share this display with the community” and veterans on campus as the coins are on display in the MSU Veteran Support Center,” he said. “So as a veteran comes in, you know, they're looking at these coins and you know what? This is information that they can share with veterans that they may know who are in crisis on campus… veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My son is an Iraq veteran, and he definitely struggled with PTS and was having some pretty challenging moments. We’ve talked, and I encouraged him to call the Veterans Crisis Line to get some help, get some support. We’ve talked about getting help when you need it and being a part of a group, whether it's The American Legion to connect with other veterans and to make sure that he takes care of himself and sometimes that means talking to somebody who is available. And that's been the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 plus one.”
Gale said the challenge coins have been a collaborative effort with several veteran groups and advocates that was initially spearheaded by Todd Bucher, interim director of Veteran Services at MSU and Bruce Barnhart, MSU School or Art instructor, who looked at the statistics with suicides, especially veterans, and wanted to Be the One to make a difference.
“I look at this collaboration, this networking, this partnership with different veteran groups here in Southwest Montana and across Montana as far as getting the messaging out to both veterans and their families as best as we can,” Gale said. “There’s this incredible, marvelous, wonderful collaboration taking place as far suicide prevention. I know American Legion Post 14 members are so excited that this is happening, that we can get this word out and you know, maybe other posts can look at what they can do as far as challenge coins and along with the Be the One campaign.”