WAVERLY HALL, Ga. (WRBL)— Two local veterans are working to break down the stigma surrounding mental health. WRBL spoke with both Army Rangers, learning how they are keeping the brotherhood and camaraderie of the military alive in civilian life.
Lee Garcia: Foundation Training Facility, Project Resilience
Lee Garcia served 20 years in the United States Army, 19 of those at formerly Fort Benning with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Originally from Texas, he now calls Harris County home. As a small business owner of Foundation Training Facility, Garcia works daily to emphasize physical and mental health, especially for his fellow veterans.
“I got involved with Project Resilience, I realized what was missing was a lot of that camaraderie and a lot of this shared suffrage, a lot of that ability to openly communicate with people that I trusted,” Garcia told WRBL. “Not that I didn’t trust the civilian population, family. It’s just different. Your experiences are different and unrelatable. I think probably a lot of military people have, whether they’re in or veterans, is you get around civilians you don’t want to talk about. You can talk about kids, football and all the other stuff. But anything deeper and more meaningful, it’s hard to relate and to share.”
Project Resilience is an initiative that combines psychotherapy and physical fitness. It looks different at every gym. For Foundation Training Facility, a group of veterans get together, work out, and hold group talks.
“Once you all get together, you realize, ‘okay, you’ve been through some of the same stuff that I’ve been through. You understand some of the things that I understand,’ and it helps them open up a little bit more,” Garcia shared. “Whether they just talk about like, ‘my kids did this, my wife did this,’ at least it opens up and gives them a safe place with people they trust, whether they know them or not, that they can communicate openly. Then eventually we get to the root of the problems just through some of that group discussion.”
Garcia says that’s what Project Resilience is all about, creating a safe, familiar atmosphere.
“We give them the physical activity to kind of bring them back to where they used to be in a world of physicality, a world a brother ship, a world, a team, a world of discomfort,” Garcia said. “But together we can laugh about it, and it kind of helps break down those barriers, as opposed to just going to sit in an office, sitting in a church, sitting in a basement of somewhere and saying, ‘I’m Lee and I don’t feel good today.'”
Garcia hosts the Veteran Mental Health Awareness Workout and Discussion every second Friday of the month. Nov. 10 is the next upcoming meeting from 6:30-8 p.m. He encourages others to come, whether they talk or not.
“You don’t have to say anything. You’ve got to show up and listen and you might find that you can relate to somebody else, and you can help somebody else,” Garcia said. “Or pay more attention to your brothers and sisters who are out there. You know their moods; you know where they’re at. Call every now and again, check up on people.”
Yuma Barnett: Barnett Multimedia, Leading with Vulnerability
Yuma Barnett, originally from New Mexico, spent more than 20 years serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment. He had a break from service in 2004, with no exiting plan he came back into the military knowing he had to make some changes.
“I knew that I needed to get in the right mental health space to get out of service. And so, I had to go talk to people who I had avoided for the first, you know, for the 20-year career, which was the mental health professionals. And once I did that and I saw the benefit of it, I started talking about that very openly at my work in the 75th Ranger Regiment, where we don’t talk about those kinds of things,” Barnett told WRBL. “And I started seeing more and more people go and get mental health, going and figuring out their mental health and everything that the Army had done for the past 20 years during the Global War on Terrorism. And through that, I started hearing all of these amazing stories.”
Hearing those stories led Barnett to create his own media company, Barnett Multimedia, where he produces a weekly podcast Leading with Vulnerability. His goal: providing a safe platform for fellow veterans and businessowners to share their stories.
“It wasn’t just the war stories and what they, you know, the cool guy stuff, but ‘how did you deal with your divorce when you were in service? How did you deal with moving all the time? How you deal with being a husband and father and work life balance,’ all of these meaningful conversations that we never had while we were in the team rooms together and stuff,” Barnett shared. “I started getting feedback from people that these stories were really helping them. They didn’t realize that such and such a person went through this thing in their life, and it’s going to help them now get through what they were doing in their life.”
Barnett encourages everyone, veteran or not, to speak up and tell their stories because you never know who is listening.
“It’s life changing for me when somebody says, ‘I had a gun in my mouth, and I listened to your podcast and now that I know that this person that told their story went through this, and I know that person I can now get through what I’m going through in life,'” Barnett said. “To anybody out there who doesn’t think they have a story, you do. Every single person has a story. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the military or not. Everybody has a story. And if you were in the military, I guarantee you have a story and you do not know the value of your story until you tell it to somebody.”