U.S. Special Operations Combat Veteran Josh Collins just wrapped up what he called ‘Operation Phoenix’. He paddled 3,500 miles, from Texas to New York City (by paddling around The Florida Keys), all to raise awareness for combat veteran suicides.
Operation Phoenix took the former Army Ranger and Delta Force combat vet several months. He left Texas back on March 5th, embarking from Corpus Christie and arrived just now at Pier A in Downtown Manhattan (also home to some fun bars).
The number is 22. That’s the number of veterans that take their own lives every day, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
And that’s the reason that U.S. Special Operations Combat Veteran Josh Collins just paddled a stand-up paddleboard 3,500 miles from Texas to New York City. He called it Operation Phoenix.
Collins knows something himself about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries.
Between his training, his service in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia, this former Delta Force Operator/Army Ranger suffered four traumatic brain injuries from explosive blasts and parachute landings. Three years ago, a final major concussion, fractured nose, fractured rib and cervical spine compressions forced his retirement. He had damage to his inner ear, nerves and eye.
But those were just the physical injuries. Collins was medicated by doctors. There was drinking to calm the pain, before being hospitalized for three months.
And then he stood on a paddleboard. According to Collins, it was the first time the horizon stood still.
“Everything about my balance was messed up because of the explosions. I was a mess on dry land,” Collins explains, “And the first time I got on a board was a recreation day at the VA Hospital. From the moment I got on the water, everything stood still. I knew I wanted to do something on a paddleboard,” he said.
Josh Collins has not only raised awareness for combat veterans with PTSD but he’s also raised over $125,000 on a CrowdRise campaign, but that campaign’s still VERY far from reaching its goal.
Alright, bros, this is about to get really heavy. Back on March 25th I did some blogging about suicide awareness and I said I wouldn’t blog about it again for another year. I’m sorry, that was a lie because I feel the need to tell you bros that suicide is something I’m way too familiar with. I lost my older brother when I was just 13. He was my best friend, my father figure, the one person in the world I’d turn to when I needed advice or felt scared about life. I was the last person he spoke to before taking his life. He called me late on a Friday afternoon and I figured it was just to check in because I was supposed to ‘have a sleepover’ at his house the next night (he was 11 years older than me), and he ended the call by telling me ‘always be a good man’. I didn’t think anything of it at the time because he loved me more than anything in the world and was always looking out for me.
About a week after his funeral my brother’s girlfriend took me fishing with some of my brother’s friends, they all wanted to cheer me up and sort of get together and tell stories. It was legitimately one of the best days of fishing of my life. We caught huge mangrove and red snapper all day as well as amberjacks and that night we ate like kings. That night my brother’s gf dropped me off and home and we were just talking about him, at one point I said ‘if I ever get up to Heaven and find him I’m going to punch him in the face for both of us for leaving us too soon’ to which she replied ‘well, I’ll be there before you so I’ll do it for the both of us’. She dropped me off, drove to the exact location my brother took his life and she took her life in the same manner. I was the last person in the world to speak to both of them, and I was barely 13.
In hindsight, after finding out he hung up the phone and went to take his life, it’s easy for me to see what he was saying and for a long time it was easy for me to torture myself with the notion that I could’ve done more or seen the signs. But that’s the scary thing about suicide, even when it’s the people closest to you in life you might not be able to see the warning signs. And that’s why I share my story every now and then because it’s important to raise awareness. I truly wish U.S. Special Operations Combat Veteran Josh Collins didn’t have to paddle 3,500 miles to raise awareness but it literally brings tears to my eyes that he did, because he’s making a real difference in the world with his actions.
Even if your life hasn’t been directly affected by suicide or PTSD just know that it’s a very real problem that thousands of Americans face every day, and you can help by raising awareness alongside U.S. Special Operations Combat Veteran Josh Collins. For more on Operation Phoneix you can check out the CrowdRise campaign and/or his story over on GrindTV.