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Raising Awareness And Funds For Service Men And Women

US Army soldier in universal camouflage uniform.

Shepherd’s Men has raised nearly $8 million.

By Lindsay Field Penticuff

“Before I entered the SHARE program in 2015, I was in so much physical and emotional pain I was ready to end that pain no matter what it meant,” says James Peterson, Shepherd’s Men team member and SHARE graduate.

“It’s given me the chance to fight alongside true patriots on a new battlefield in a war against veteran suicide,” offers Gary Herber, Shepherd’s Men team member and SHARE graduate.

“The Shepherd’s Men run is a way for me to celebrate those fallen heroes and let their families know I will never forget their loved ones. My oath does not have an expiration date,” adds Jarrad Turner Sr., Shepherd’s Men team member and SHARE graduate.

It’s comments like these over the past eight years that have continued to drive the co-founders of Shepherd’s Men — Troy Campbell and Travis Ellis — to foster their mission of helping service men and women across the country.

“To know that our group has been able to be directly responsible for getting human beings from wherever their hometown is to Atlanta to receive this care, get them well and allow them to re-engage not only their home but their church and community, it means everything,” Ellis says. “And to know that generations are going to be the recipients of opportunity and the promise of tomorrow because of just what little we’ve done is just such an awesome thing.”

Shepherd’s Men
Shepherd’s Men

Ellis’ father died from a drug overdose when Ellis was young, so he has firsthand knowledge of the impact such trauma can have on children. “To know that children have an opportunity because their mom and dad are here serving in the capacity of ‘mommy and daddy’ and not a sobering statistic is a pretty special thing,” he adds. “It’s been the honor of my lifetime to participate in some small way.”

Located in Atlanta, Shepherd Center is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research, and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain.

The SHARE Military Initiative includes a dedicated treatment team experienced in working with veterans and first responders. Depending on a patient’s unique treatment needs, the Shepherd Center care team includes specialized providers trained in:

  • Neurology
  • Physical and rehabilitation medicine
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech-language pathology
  • Recreation therapy
  • Nursing
  • Case management
  • Neuropsychology, psychology and counseling
  • Chaplaincy
  • Counseling for those in recovery for substance abuse
  • Individual, family and group therapy
  • Client/family education
  • Cognitive rehabilitation
  • Vestibular (dizziness and balance) evaluation and treatment
  • Vocational/academic evaluation and community re-entry
  • Life skills training and coaching
  • Transition support to home
  • Pain management

The program provides comprehensive rehabilitation at no cost to military veterans, service members and first responders who have traumatic brain injuries and co-occurring mental health concerns, so they can embark on a truly individualized and impactful path to renewed relationships, purpose, and life. It costs on average about $35,000 for someone to participate in the program, which is funded largely through charitable donations.

To date, more than 750 veterans have benefited from SHARE’s life-changing work, and among those, between 225-250 have been helped thanks to funding from Shepherd’s Men. Shepherd’s Men was founded in 2014 after Ellis, along with a group from the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Honorary Commander’s Program, visited Shepherd Center and learned about the SHARE Military Initiative.

“The best asset we have as a nation are the men and women who raise their right hand to wear the uniform of the nation,” says Ellis, who is also a Smyrna businessman. “I wanted to give the class an opportunity to see the work that Shepherd Center was doing through the SHARE Military Initiative. I had a friend who went through the program and he would tell you it transformed his life.”

After the visit, which included members of the U.S. Marine Corp from a local recognizance unit, Campbell reached out to Ellis and shared how moved he was to hear stories from the men and women served by SHARE. “Troy mentioned that he had always wanted to run from their unit in Smyrna to the Marine Corps War Memorial, but he only wanted to do it because he liked to run,” Ellis says. “We met for lunch and the thought was that we would do the run from Shepherd Center to the Marine Corps War Memorial (684 miles), and we would do it not only to say we did it, but to see if we could raise a month’s worth of programmatic costs for SHARE.”

Their initial goal was to raise about $100,000, but they exceeded that, raising $135,000.

“Shepherd’s Men grew organically from there, and the next year we ran from New York to Atlanta and then it just kept snowballing,” Ellis says. “Over the course of eight years, we’ve run 5,000 miles all over the country and carried different amounts of weight, anywhere from 22 to 93 pounds. We’ve tried to raise advocacies through those physical exercises, while also reaching more people and finding not only men and women who need the program, but folks who are interested in supporting financially.”

Why running? Ellis, who participates in PT daily with the local regiment, says running is “kind of engrained” in the culture of the Marine Corps. “It’s something everyone was already doing as part of their daily wellness plan, but it was also something we could construct to not only push ourselves physically,” Ellis says. “But when people see folks running down the side of the road carrying the colors and wearing the weighted vests, they tend to stop and ask questions.”

Shepherd’s Men has raised nearly $8 million for Shepherd Center, and 100 percent of all funds raised benefit the military initiative. “In the first year, we made a commitment that we didn’t want to make any comfort-based decisions for ourselves,” Ellis says. “We weren’t going to stay in a hotel room or buy a meal. That first year, we slept in fire stations and even in a field one night. As we got further along, though, we met some sponsors who had a ton of hotel points, so they began providing lodging for us.”

Jarrad Turner’s Story

Travis Ellis and Jarrad Turner Sr.
Travis Ellis and Jarrad Turner Sr.

The initiative, which is available to service members and first responders who have served in the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001, regardless of discharge status, has been especially impactful for Jarrad Turner Sr. A U.S. Army staff sergeant and combat medic from 2001 to 2010, Turner was injured during his second deployment. He underwent four shoulder surgeries and two elbow surgeries and was medically retired from the Army due to his injuries. In 2012, he became a SHARE client and received treatment for his injuries, as well as other helpful therapy. He joined Shepherd’s Men to honor his fellow brothers-in-arms who were lost in combat and to suicide.

Turner says SHARE helped him realize that he will forever face challenges, obstacles and adversity, but he has learned that he needs to create a process that works best for him in dealing with those. “I was able to use my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro to simplify my life,” he shares. “Using technology, I created a scheduling process that keeps me on track and prevents me from becoming overwhelmed. Having a brain injury doesn’t stop you from living life. However, it does mean that you must be careful, thoughtful, and understand what works for you.”

While at Shepherd Center, Turner underwent a thorough understanding of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “You can’t fight something you don’t understand,” he says. “I really needed to understand my brain injury and how it affected my PTSD. I also needed to understand how PTSD has affected me and what my triggers are. The weeks I was in the program allowed me to simply focus on me. As a soldier, husband and father, I never made time to address my invisible injures. I was only focused on the physical injuries. Before SHARE, I really tried to ignore all the pain, along with the residuals of my injuries.”

As a husband and father, Turner also has learned to deal with his injuries by reminding himself that he always wants to be the best version of himself when it comes to his kids. “The challenges I face from my injures should never prevent me from being a great dad,” Turner says. “Things like a lapse in my memory, double vision, fatigue and pain are always in my life. The SHARE Military Initiative gave me the tools and training to work through these issues, and still be that good father and husband. I am blessed and eternally grateful.”

Today, he has found multiple ways to help relieve the stressors in his life. He enjoys weight training, mountain biking, cooking, and playing chess and Uno with his kids. “If there is anything that I could offer fellow veterans, I would say you deserve an opportunity to live your best life,” Turner adds. As service members, we have all been trained to take care of everyone else. Now it is time to take care of yourself.”

The significance of the No. 22
Each day, approximately 22 American veterans make permanent decisions to end their own lives. Shepherd’s Men will not rest until the number of lives lost every day to suicide goes from 22 to 0.

“While we are raising resources and funds for SHARE, we want to bring to light a 2012 U.S. Department of Defense study of the number of veterans who take their own lives,” Ellis says. “Over the course of the next decade, that number remained pretty flat. The most recent study showed it at 20.8. Suicides are down slightly in the veteran community, but they are still at a staggering rate compared to civilian population. It’s still an epidemic problem and unfortunately one that often goes untreated.”

Through his work with military service men and women, Ellis has learned that the common practice is over-prescription of narcotics, such as pain medication, sleeping medication, or anti-anxiety medication. And it may seem inconsistent with the mantra of a war fighter to step forward and say they need help, but it’s truly the most heroic thing a person can do, concludes Ellis.

“But if you are not doing well and you are struggling, please reach out to us directly or SHARE,” he says. “There are people who care, and there’s a local program that can provide life-saving care that will produce a generational impact.”

Shepherd’s Men
Comprised of active or retired servicemen and civilian volunteers, Shepherd’s Men raises awareness and funds for the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center in Atlanta.

Established: 2014

Founders: Troy Campbell and Travis Ellis

Learn more: shepherdsmen.com

Upcoming Event
American Legion Post 29 8th Annual Veterans Day 5K Run
Saturday, Nov. 12
Marietta Square
5K Run/Walk/Wheelchair: 7:30 a.m.
Tot Trot: 8:30 a.m.
Register: post29marietta.org/5krace

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