Growing up in the 1970s, New Jersey Legionnaire Anthony “Tony” Gladden remembers being around Vietnam veterans and watching their struggles. That’s why he’s so passionate about The American Legion’s Be the One mission to reduce veteran suicide by eliminating the stigma attached to asking for mental health assistance.
And he’s sharing that mission with others.
A past department vice commander and current Department Executive Committeeman, Gladden retired from the U.S. Air Force and now works as a contractor for the Army Reserve at Fort Dix, and has been wearing red on Fridays as a part Remember Everybody Deployed. But recently, he began urging his co-workers to do the same – while adding a Be the One component to the day.
The result: the majority of his co-workers – most of whom are veterans – are now wearing red on Fridays while also learning about Be the One. The latter resonates with him after watching other veterans struggle when Gladden was growing up.
“When you had struggles, you kept it to yourself,” said Gladden, a member of McKaig-Test-Mullen American Legion Post 455 in New Egypt, N.J. “I remember as a kid, we knew Vietnam veterans, and when they acted crazy weird – and I’m using that term as a kid – we’d say that they were ’’Naming out’ and we ran away from them.
“There’s no way that anyone who spent any amount of time in the military doesn’t suffer some type of post-traumatic stress. From Day 1 when you get to basic training and you have someone in your face … you get thrown into the deep end of the pool, stripped down and built back up. That’s stressful, and that sticks with you.”
Bringing his co-workers into the Be the One mix started when Gladden looked at the December calendar and realized that Dec. 1 was a Friday. On the first day of every month, American Legion Resolution 13 urges Legion Family members to wear a Be the One item to show their commitment to reducing the stigma around mental health issues among veterans and servicemembers, and to start a conversation about what Be the One is and how to save the life of a veteran.
“We’re allowed to dress down on Fridays, so I hadn’t been able to wear anything (Be the One) on the first of the month until after work,” Gladden said. “I looked at the calendar … and basically what I did is I said, ‘Hey, why don’t you guys wear red on Friday.’ And when everybody came in wearing red, I started talking to them about veteran suicide, Be the One and all that kind of good stuff.”
Gladden said his co-workers know how involved with The American Legion that he is outside of the office. Without being pushy, he’s made them aware of what the Legion does and the services it offers to veterans, including filing benefits claims.
“A couple of them are members (of the Legion), and a couple of them are talking about becoming members. I invite them to come out with us when we do stuff,” Gladden said. “And now, their eyes are really being opened about what our mission is and what we’re doing.”
Gladden said he felt a need to educate his co-workers on Be the One as well. “This is one of those things. Veteran suicide touches us all in one way, shape or form,” he said. “I had one of my former (servicemembers die by suicide). I felt bad that he died by suicide, but my thing was how were there all these people around him who didn’t have the tools to recognize that he was going through a struggle.
“That’s my thing. I deal with a bunch of people who love the military. I kind of want to make sure that they understand that part … that part of Be the One. Everyone’s got someone in the military. We see things that are out of character. So, ask the questions, and here’s the information that you can get to them to get them the help they needed.”
Gladden, who has multiple American Legion national committee assignments, is proud his organization has made stemming the tide of veteran suicides a national priority.
“I’m very happy The American Legion realizes some of the mistakes that were made … and now is recognizing there are issues out there, and we need to make people aware it’s not something to hide from,” he said. “There’s no shame in the game. Let’s get them the help they need. They answered the nation’s call. I’m very happy we’re taking this stance.”