Protecting Heroes

Michele Ladd stands in front of her Hero Mobile with her dog Chellis. She travels the country to bring awareness of veterans suffering form post traumatic stress disorder and committing suicide.

Ormond Strong will conduct a 22-hour, non-stop vigil, raising awareness and support for the 22 veterans a day who commit suicide.

Named “22 Hours for the 22 A Day” the event will begin at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20, and end at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21. It will be at VFW Post 3282 at 5810 S. Williamson Blvd. in Port Orange.

The Hero Mobile, a 32-foot vehicle wrapped with the flag and portraits of veterans in different war eras, will be displayed for the 22-hour event.

Michele Ladd, founder of National Veteran Resources, travels around the country with the Hero Mobile, logging more than 75,000 miles in the past four years.

Her efforts are evolving, Ms. Ladd said. “I’m the mom of two veterans and I am the CEO to a company called Heroes Home Advantage. It’s a real estate rebate program for heroes around the country.

“I started interviewing veterans around the country. Then I started meeting mothers who had lost their sons and daughters to suicide. I decided to become a nonprofit. The (Hero Mobile) is a tribute to our heroes. I am about suicide prevention and suicide awareness. I go where I have a calling.”

Ms. Ladd splits her non travel time between Georgia and New York with her fiancée and two dogs. She has a Facebook group specifically for mothers whose veteran sons or daughters took their own life. It is their communities she brings the RV to so she can meet them in person.

The event will also feature veterans and first responder groups providing community resources to those needing information or assistance. Guest speakers, community leaders, local musicians and veterans will be live streamed throughout the vigil. Every hour a soldier will be honored whose life was cut short by suicide and 22 pairs of boots will be on display. The public is invited to attend.

Ormond Strong is an area non-profit dedicated to honoring military veterans, service members and first responders and their families. While it is mostly known for its awareness-raising bridge walk, the organization works to bring communities together with those who serve.

Debbie Kruck-Forrester, the wife of one of 200 Flagler Beach-based Army National Guardsman from the 1-265th ADA, is founder and commander of Ormond Strong. Her group consists of veterans, active duty military, their families and patriots within the community.

Together they perform a 2.6-mile vigil walk over the Granada bridge in Ormond Beach at 7:30 every morning to raise awareness and support for all Americans who serve. They host programs and tackle issues veterans and first responders face, such as PTSD, unemployment and homelessness.

“I started Ormond Strong because I didn’t want myself or any other family members to go through what I went through, isolated and alone (during her husband’s deployments),” Ms. Kruck-Forrester said.

Having experienced the loss of a veteran friend through suicide, she said, “I decided to take action by putting this event on in his (Brian P’s) honor. This is creating a dialogue and an awareness. I think all of it stems from that dark place that you think you can’t get out of and not having available to you the resources. It’s time to bring awareness to it and make it a subject people talk about. (The Hero Mobile) is something outstanding to see.”

Hosting the event is an honor for VFW Post 3282, said Chris Gates, post commander. “This event is to continue to raise awareness for the national number of 22 veterans a day who take their own lives. As the commander and a 26-year Navy veteran, I see the scars that our own members wear every day; WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Global War on Terrorism and First Responders can (all) benefit from this.

“This event is a great way to promote that you are not alone, that there is always someone that can listen,” Mr. Gates said. “Many men and women have given their lives in defense of this great nation for every citizen. I truly believe that all members of every branch and first responders have seen things that, no matter how strong you are, will truly haunt you. By opening this event up to the public and streaming live it will allow members of the community to see and talk about their experiences or provide some valuable resources for them.”

For more information, email ormondstrong@gmail.com.

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