What Meeting Fred Gutierrez Meant to Me?

One day out of nowhere, Michelle Richards, OneNation Foundation President, reached out to me to discuss a collaboration effort to help a Veteran. I didn’t need much more than just that message to be all in. There is no convincing necessary when it comes to helping a Veteran. I had no idea who it was or what the situation was, but when called, I was there, especially for a Veteran. I felt another door open was another opportunity to serve someone who gave so much for me. Who knew where it would lead me, but I did have a feeling of being thankful.

Michelle briefly described the effort OneNation Foundation was building for Fred Gutierrez and how I could help. To be honest, it didn’t matter to me who or what the situation was, but I could help a Veteran and give back. I didn’t even know or think about ever meeting Fred. My thinking was simple, and my focus was evident, as it usually is when it comes to helping people. I am not doing it for thanks or anything in return. RJ’s Mission Foundation is about giving back and serving others, especially Veterans.  

Fred had been in a tragic car accident, and at the time, he was in recovery from massive injuries. 

“Michelle asked if I would help, and there was no question.”

What I did not know about Fred was his past and situation up to that point in time. I knew Fred needed prayers and financial help. Michelle asked if I would help, and there was no question.

I finally got to meet Fred, a moment of emotions I could not describe. I drove to Fred’s house without expectations or thoughts about how it would go. I always try to keep an open mind when meeting someone I can help.

Michelle and I walked in, and when I first saw Fred, I felt an emotion of awe. Fred has paralysis on his left side, and I was speechless when I saw that, knowing how bad his car accident was. I didn’t know the back story, but I felt a presence of determination, motivation, hope, and life. I sat down and listened to Fred tell me his story and what had happened, only to realize he was an inspiration to me.

Collaborating with OneNation Foundation opened a door for our mission to serve and support the HERO Golf Therapy Program.

From that moment on, I was invited to support the HERO Golf Therapy Program held monthly in Charleston. Hearing Fred’s story and seeing him at the golf clinic gave me even more time to serve and support other Veterans and First Responders. The call to help was a blessing that opened more chances to help our Veterans and beyond.

“I leave inspired and feeling in awe of all of them.”

Every month I go and hear their stories like Fred’s, and I leave inspired and feeling in awe of all of them. 

Meeting Fred Gutierrez has given me more drive and determination to be inspired. Fred is an inspiration, and anyone who knows him knows it too. He plays golf one-handed, and that is only the beginning.  Fred’s friend, Rich O’Brien, and he have written a book about their experiences. And yes, I recommend reading their book because it will only encourage you to have hope.

What Did Speaking to the CVMA Mean to Me?

So, when I started my mission to help our Veterans, Active Duty, First Responders, and their families, I had no idea where to start. I had a friend mention, Patriot Villas, a transition home for our Veterans. I started showing up on the first Saturday each month to support the Veterans by supplying clothes and supplies purchased with donations. The first Saturday is Breaking Bread with Vets, hosted by the CVMA 34-4 (Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association).  

Once I began coming each month, I got to know Julie Neira, the CVMA 34-4 Chapter Public Relations Officer. From the first time I showed up, Julie began asking me about RJ’s Mission, and it took off from there. Julie herself is an advocate for our Veterans through www.juliehelpsveterans.com. Every time we saw each other at Patriot Villas, she was more intrigued with the progress of my mission and continued to offer feedback and opportunities. At the time, I was a bit small and overwhelmed to get involved with more than I could handle. Julie never stopped trying or asking.

By this time, I had been going to Patriot Villas consistently and met some of the CVMA, and they were nothing but welcoming. The CVMA Veterans I spoke to were genuinely interested and thankful for what my mission is trying to do. They knew that the months of donations and clothes we were donating made an impact at Patriot Villas. Then Julie came to me with the opportunity to speak to the CVMA at the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) in Summerville. I didn’t know what to think about it, but I never turned down a chance to talk about RJ’s Mission.

“Now, is it different to give a presentation in front of Combat Veterans?”

I knew I would talk about RJ’s Mission and where it started, but I was intimidated about speaking in public. Most days, I have no problems discussing my mission to help our Veterans. Now, is it different to give a presentation in front of Combat Veterans? 

One thing I had to remember is why I am on my mission, and it is because of the Veterans from CVMA that made sacrifices for our nation. Then the day came.

Driving to the VFW in Summerville, I realized I didn’t know what I was going to say. It was the first time I would have the opportunity to speak to Veterans and thank them for what they have endured and done for me. I am always in their debt and could never do enough to show them the gratitude, respect, and thanks I owe them.  

“Having an impact”

It was time to give my 5-minute statement to the CVMA. The CVMA welcomed me, and I began telling my story of how RJ’s Mission became a passion turned purpose for a greater cause than myself. It went well, and the biggest surprise was how they thanked me for what I did. I am still in awe of our Veterans, and my gratitude for them is immense. I learned that what I was doing was having an impact, and helping our Veterans is my mission.    

What does RJ’s Mission Foundation means to me?

RJ’s Mission began as an idea to help serve and support our veterans, service members, first responders, and their families.  One day, the idea came true during a phone conversation with a Marine veteran friend, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I figured I would start with designs for apparel such as shirts and hats to raise money to give straight to our local Lowcountry community.

Little did I know what I was doing and how to start a business.  It is a continuing learning experience that I face daily with everything from social media to website updates to spending my extra time volunteering.  But as time went on, things became more manageable with the help of many external resources I have reached out to.  I will be honest, it has been overwhelming and stressful, yet my passion for helping is never-ending with ideas, and RJ’s Mission has progressed into establishing RJ’s Mission Foundation. 

RJ’s Mission Foundation

RJ’s Mission Foundation is the next step to growing our give back, give thanks, give yourself campaign serving our Lowcountry veterans, active duty, and first responders.  My passion has the purpose of helping and supporting one person at a time.  The process with RJ’s Mission only led to the foundation once I realized I needed it to reach more people in our community.  RJ’s Mission is not about how many shirts or hats we can sell but who the proceeds are helping.  The foundation is the next step in the equation to raise more money to give back to the local Lowcountry veterans requiring food, clothing, and shelter.  As I work to show what we can do to help, I want people to realize that you can help too.  RJ’s Mission Foundation is more than volunteering or sending care packages.  It is about our heroes’ stories and understanding to the best of our ability, their experiences.

I want to bring the community education and knowledge about our veterans, troops, first responders, and their families and how their sacrifices affect them.  I have friends with PTSD, and I constantly read about PTSD to know what it is, what it does, and how it can hurt those that I love in my life.  There is not a day that I do not think about helping others.  I may never experience what others live with or sacrifice for our communities or nation, but I know that helping one person at a time will only grow.  Leading by example is another way to serve others and support them.  RJ’s Mission Foundation is only the beginning of our journey to having an entire life of paying it forward and saying thank you to our heroes.

 

Breaking Bread with Vets at Patriot Villas

My first Breaking Bread with Vets hosted by Lowcountry CVMA 34-4 was a fantastic experience.  RJ’s Mission is currently donating all proceeds and donations to Patriot Villas.  Patriot Villas helps about 70 homeless veterans with food, clothing, and shelter.  Each of these items is a necessity all humans should have, but we as ordinary citizens take full advantage of it from the backs of others.  We live our lives and never stop to think about how our freedoms are protected, yet we always talk about how sacred they are because we are the United States of America.

Every day that RJ’s Mission continues to grow and contribute more to helping others in the military and first responder communities, I become humbler and more selfless.

Attending the Breaking Bread with Vets is a way to meet those we are helping and see who gave it all for my freedoms.  I no longer want to sit back and watch from the sidelines.  Not only did I get to see those I am helping, but I met a fantastic group of veterans that were hosting the event each month, Lowcountry CVMA 34-4.

No Fear

There was no hesitation in going to the event as I have always done things by myself and never feared the unknown.  As soon as I arrived at Patriot Villas it was freezing cold with freezing rain; not even mother nature was going to stop Breaking Bread with Vets.  I can only imagine what these veterans have gone through for me.  The opportunity is always there for RJ’s Mission to give back and thank each one of our veterans we meet.  I walked up, and a few of the wives greeted me with open arms and one hug when I introduced myself.  At that moment, everything inside of me felt perfect.  I knew I was destined to keep my Mission accurate to the journey I was on with the motivation and passion behind RJ’s Mission.

Once CVMA and their wives greeted me, I knew my journey was headed in the right direction.  RJ’s Mission donated shirts, hats, and all our donations from October 2021 until now have totaled about $600 a month.  Beyond the financial needs, we were able to thank the veterans and provide clothing which is only the beginning.  As the wind picked up and it became colder, we stepped inside the common area where meals were being served only to meet more great folks.

Since RJ’s Mission began supporting and serving the veterans at Patriot Villas, we have started to network further and realize the impact.  We have donated clothes through Coastal Community Church for Patriot Villas.  RJ’s Mission met the folks from Coastal Community Church through Soldiers’ Angels, and as our network grows, so does our passion for our mission to give back.

What does the Veteran food distribution mean to me?

RJ’s Mission started with a personal mission to get myself involved with the local community helping to support our local Charleston Veterans.  I had no idea where to begin except to search and reach out to non-profits in the search criteria.  Where better to start than with Professor Google?  Once I went through a few links to other non-profits, I found Soldiers’ Angels.

I have never been a person shy about showing up or signing up and doing it alone.  I signed up through their website and showed up.  I am continuously looking for ways to give back and support those that served.  The beginning of RJ’s Mission started, and the giving back part of our mission was born.  My mission is to help and change the life of another with support and thanks.

Once a month, Soldiers’ Angels have a Veteran food distribution at the local Elk Club in Charleston, SC.  I showed up, and the rest fell into place.  I was pulling into the parking lot, and like anything else, I felt worried, and I was not quite sure.  I had butterflies, but my attitude was at ease.  I could not stop feeling the emotions of gratitude and giving thanks even before I talked to anyone there. 

Jumping In

I jumped right in with the meat tent assignment, and no matter how the meat smelled or wet it got from defrosting in the hot sun, it was an amazing feeling to begin my new path.  I began to forget about the actual work I was doing with the team and started to feel gratitude for preparing the food for those we needed to serve.  Then the line of cars began rolling in, and I realized how significant the food was for the families coming through the line.  The first veteran family came driving up to our station, which was first.

As I put the meat in the car, I could walk around and thank the Veteran and their family.  The action of thanking them becomes overwhelming when you stop to realize you wouldn’t have the freedom and privilege to do so without their sacrifice.  My mission begins with changing the life of another, and it includes an entire family.  The purpose has so much passion and fulfillment inside you, and that is how it becomes your mission.

During the Veteran food distribution, I met so many great people and realized there are so many like-minded like me.  This event is just the beginning of my journey to helping and supporting those that serve and to keep giving back each day as if it was the last.  I met folks from a local church, Coastal Community Church, which focused primarily on outreach. This helped me find guidance and the significance of having others in the community doing the same thing.  The way I saw the community come together in a time of need for our Veterans and their families is encouraging and empowering, but it doesn’t stop here.  I must live each day helping others and spreading the word for awareness and support.

 

What does 9/11 mean to me?

As the 20th anniversary approached, 9/11 became a more prominent element in my everyday life.  I always remembered and honored 9/11 in past years but never stopped to realize the real and complete meaning of the event and what occurred afterward.

In the past few years, I began realizing the ultimate sacrifice that our veterans and active-duty service members have given for our nation and families.  I had always supported the military community but never thought about the sacrifice beyond their own life.  And that was my ignorance and selfishness.

Supporting our veterans and active duty is not enough in my eyes as I learn more that my support was not the proper support.  I did not understand that emotional support is one piece of the bigger picture.  My support must go beyond emotion and become a physical presence in my everyday life.  I have always supported by donating and having compassion, but I never understood what it meant to support.  As my journey continues with RJ’s Mission, I am discovering my humility and selflessness by giving back in service to those that serve.

I have learned the ultimate sacrifice is how these brave men and women not only served to protect our freedom but gave up the everyday things we take for granted.  Our military service members may never have a family, see their kids grow up, attend a friend’s wedding, a relative’s funeral, or wake up knowing their family is safe.  When you put all that aside for others you do not know, you are a savior, a warrior, a protector, and a peacemaker to our nation.

“My first reaction was to head home and grab what I needed to get out of town”

When 9/11 occurred, I remember the feeling of loss, fear, and panic.  My first reaction was to head home and grab what I needed to get out of town.

Many of my friends felt the same way as we prepared to take a trip out to the Shenandoah Mountain range.  It was a natural reaction at the time but slowing it all down the many victims and people that suffered afterward is enormous, along with the feeling of uncertainty.  As years passed, I constantly remembered and prayed for those families during their time of loss, only to realize I lost nothing.

That statement is not intended to destroy the security we felt before 9/11 in the United States.  It is meant to put my feelings of loss aside because that day never left us.  Those families lost innocent loved ones, and those that jumped into action are our heroes who continue to suffer from the after-effects.  9/11 and the aftermath showed our nation many things.  Our everyday heroes came to the rescue without questions, sacrificing their lives for others.  Our community of neighbors, friends, and family enlisting to protect our country from foreign enemies.  We must honor their sacrifice.

9/11/2021 was the year my wife and I participated in the 9/11 Heroes Run for the first time without a second thought.  We were not supporting anyone but all those unknown to us because we realized we could do better.  We can do more, and sometimes more is not enough.  Both of us cried during the opening ceremonies, which is when it came together.  On this day, we felt what we should do each day from the beginning on 9/12/01, unity.  We are in the right place with like-minded people, and as I struggled each step to finish the 5k, I was moving towards my commitment to the people I will never know, yet they gave it all for me.

My Covenant

My covenant each day now is to honor our fallen heroes by helping their families, to support our veterans, active duty, and first responders when called upon, and I will do so without question.  Our freedom is never stronger shoulder to shoulder with unity formed from 9/11/01.  Serving those that serve is a greater cause than yourself.  This, I believe. 

 

What does PTSD mean to me?

When I think about what PTSD is or what I really know about it, I keep concluding that I am unaware of how it is caused or what it does to a person.  I have always been aware of it, but I have never been really educated about PTSD.  I have known that several of my friends have it but will never talk about it or admit it to themselves.  Most times, I see them struggle with alcohol or some other vise they think is not related.  I have always gone along with what they did, and that was hiding it and compartmentalize it.

Then that day came where one of my friends told me he has it, and he has it bad.  In the following few conversations over a few days, the idea of suicide and killing myself were mentioned.

I had always thought it was best to support and let friends of mine talk about it.  I kept telling myself that I am not a therapist or a mental doctor skilled enough to advise.  Then my friend mentioned the idea we never want to think about.

He was right up front with either going back to feel the purpose of being part of a plan by design or struggling with the pain.  Well, the pain was too great, and he told me about the trigger almost being pulled.

My reaction on the other side of the conversion was, what can I do? He is so far away.  Once off the phone, my eyes began to water, and I remember when my brother, Curtis died several years back from a drug overdose.  I know Curtis was alone, and I know my friend feels alone also.

Well, never again is what I told myself.

Never again will he be alone.  He may struggle, but I need him alive.  He is my friend, and I am here for him. 

RJ’s Mission

The idea of RJ’s Mission was just that for about two years until my friend needed me.  I realized the greater need to reach many people with PTSD, specifically from the military and first responder communities.

It starts with one.  It begins with creating words into action.  The day he told me he was thinking about killing himself is when the idea became a reality.  I started researching and finding out more about what PTSD is.  Where does it come from, how does it affect those suffering, and how can I help them? 

Starting from the beginning is defining what is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?  It would be a life-threatening event of some sort from his military combat, which could be any violent or severe situation.  Many people develop PTSD, so believe me when I tell you it goes beyond military combat.  In generic terms, PTSD can cause nightmares, flashbacks, emotional reactions, and numbness. 

All these symptoms would change any person’s daily routines and life.  Our daily lives can be haunted by depression, substance abuse, cognitive issues, and health problems.  All this causes consequences in their family, social, and work-life unstable situations.

Once I understood what causes PTSD and understood the symptoms, I could not stop learning more about it.  How long does it take after a traumatic event to be visible?  What types of treatment are out there for people suffering?  What is the definition of PTSD, and who does it include?  It includes people way beyond war, and PTSD is constantly changing as it is being studied.  Then there are the statistics that really made me angry and sad all at the same time.  The stats depend on the military combat era from operations Iraqi Freedom to back until the Vietnam War.  We can talk about the stats another time as it is staggering because I would believe the numbers are much higher.  The reason I think this is many veterans probably never tell anyone.

This is where I wanted to learn how to help or become a resource to those who serve.  RJ’s Mission is about creating relationships with organizations providing treatment or therapy for those who have PTSD.  RJ’s Mission is a path towards those foundations where others like me care to serve those who serve.  This mission is bigger than those suffering, but also the families who have sacrificed watching their loved ones hurt.  PTSD is not going away, and it is an invisible enemy we all need to face together.