A group of veterans is fighting back against mental-health problems and the plan for their mission is not only designed to rescue them but also other veterans in need of assistance.
The Indiana-based program once called Operation Combat Bikesaver rebranded as Operation Charlie Bravo, and its goal remains intact: to prevent veteran suicides and help soldiers combat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries and win the battle against depression.
The idea centers around assigning the vets a new mission. It is a mission so important, it has outgrown the little backyard shed where it started in 2015 in Crown Point.
Jason Zaideman, CEO of the nonprofit group, said the popular program is definitely making a difference.
“I’ve lost count of how many veterans have told me that they’re still alive today because of our place,” Zaideman recounted. “I’ve actually had other family members — one specific veteran’s daughter — hugged me at an anniversary party, and she whispered in my ear ‘Thank you. I have my daddy back.’ “
When first launched, the program was tailored only around motorcycles. But as Charlie Bravo evolved and membership grew, it moved into a bigger building to house its shops and tools. The operation now offers seven programs. For anyone struggling or in crisis, help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling or texting 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Zaideman explained the distractive therapy program adapts as the needs of veterans change. He added the camaraderie experienced through the operation is amazing to watch.
“Started off with hot rod therapy, and then I created a program called the blaster program, which is to help veterans with fixing their vehicles,” Zaideman recalled. “It’s still automotive related but it’s more along the lines of making sure that they had transportation to get to and from work and stuff like that so they didn’t lose their jobs.”
Zaideman emphasized raising awareness about the help being offered to veterans is the group’s biggest priority. And while he is proud of the success with the program, he hopes to get more female veterans involved in the mission.