The Irreverent Warriors’ Silkies Hike on April 1 in downtown Indianapolis was sponsored by The American Legion via an Operation Comfort Warriors (OCW) grant. The $3,750 grant covered the cost of food for those 240 or so hikers – some who came from as far away as San Diego, as well as supplies needed for registration prior to the walk.
But for Douglas Chace, The American Legion’s OCW coordinator, the Saturday event was as much about another Legion program as it was about OCW.
“The mission of Irreverent Warriors kind of mirrors our ‘Be the One’ program in that it’s focused on that personal contact to prevent veteran suicides,” Chace said. “They use these walks and that dark military humor to recreate that camaraderie from the military and help work through whatever issues they may be having.
“With one of our primary focuses being preventing veteran suicides, our Operation Comfort Warriors is able to step in directly with this event and provide things to support this event and allow things to move forward so we can keep more veterans on our rolls.”
Irreverent Warriors is a non-profit with local communities in 37 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Guam and Europe. The organization works with other veteran service organizations to provide services such as job placement and housing, as well providing a support network through events such as its Silkies Hikes.
Two previous Irreverent Warriors’ hikes in Indianapolis also have received OCW sponsorship, as have similar hikes in Atlanta and Birmingham. Future hikes also will receive American Legion support.
“It’s just really easy to come alongside and work with them to achieve the goal of the reduction of veteran suicides,” said Chace.
Jason Black, Irreverent Warriors’ Indianapolis coordinator, said American Legion support for such hikes “is extremely important. Operation Comfort Warriors’ support has been absolutely crucial to what we do. (The American Legion) is always the first organization I mention when I talk to others about the support we get. It’s programs like OCW that lets us do what we do.”
Black, a U.S. Army veteran with a deployment to Iraq, said he became involved with Irreverent Warriors when he was “dragged to my first hike. Somebody asked me at the last minute, and my wife told me to go. I found out it was exactly what I needed. And I didn’t realize how much I needed it or how much I was missing the military camaraderie. It actually set me on the path that I’m on now, extremely involved in the veteran community here in Indiana.”
Black also noted a parallel between his organization’s mission and that of the “Be the One” initiative. “We bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent veteran suicides,” he said. “We do it through our Silkies Hikes and through our other smaller events. It’s working. And it’s like the Legion’s suicide-prevention program. If I can just reach one person a day … that’s all I ask for every single day I wake up.”
Chace has taken part in three Indianapolis Irreverent Warriors’ hikes and one in Atlanta and is planning to attend two others this year. “What I’ve found is the camaraderie renewed really raises your spirits,” he said. “In the last week, we lost three veterans in (nearby) Greenwood. We lost a couple very highly decorated Navy SEALS, all to the suicide. That really emphasizes and highlights the need for an event like this. Thankfully, Irreverent Warriors has them all over the place.”
American Legion Past National Commander James Koutz made raising funds for OCW his national commander’s project when he was elected in 2012. Support for the program has stayed strong since, including a March donation of more than $111,000 from the American Legion Family at Kenneth N Dowden Wayne Post 64 in Indianapolis.
“Post 64 is exceptional. From its inception, Operation Comfort Warriors has received almost $1 million from that post,” Chace said. “The fact that different posts and districts and departments at all levels have continued to support the program does nothing but validate the importance of the program.”