The widely cited statistic is shocking and speaks to the horrific memories forever ingrained in the minds of former military personnel, even long after the fighting has stopped: 22 veterans commit suicide every day, due in part to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A group of Orange County Sheriff’s deputies stationed at the Theo Lacy Facility, the maximum-security jail complex in Orange, wants the public to be aware of that staggering figure and to support efforts being made to reverse the trend.
So starting last Friday, July 22, groups of deputies in the jail performed 22 pushups, once an hour for 22 consecutive hours, with the final set of 22 done at 12:22 p.m. Saturday, July 23, amid dozens of supporters under a tent in the parking lot of the facility.
Family members and deputies from other OCSD units also joined in for the final set.
The deputies promoted the event in advance and raised money through an opportunity drawing and T-shirt sales.
All the money is being donated to the Infinite Hero Foundation, a nonprofit arm of sunglasses maker Oakley that supports military veterans and families through a variety of programs.
The OCSD has several deputies who are military veterans, and eight deputies assigned to the jail are currently deployed, said Jason Park, division commander at Theo Lacy.
“So it’s a cause near and dear to our heart,” Park said.
Theo Lacy Administrative Sgt. Gary Lewellyn went well beyond the required 22 pushups an hour, completing 2,222 pushups in about 14 hours.
“I just wanted to challenge myself and show a little dedication,” said Lewellyn, an OCSD deputy for 20 years, including nine at Theo Lacy. “There is a lot of correlation between the military and law enforcement, and we appreciate all that they have done and what they continue to do. People come back and they need help when they are back here, so we want to bring awareness to the resources that are out there for people.”
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens was among those on hand and she expressed gratitude for the effort.
“I want to commend all the personnel at Theo Lacy from the top down for coming up with this campaign, which is so important for the men and women who keep America safe and through multiple deployments (who), in some cases, come back with PTSD,” Hutchens said.
“They really have been in the battle a long time.”
As is often the case with OCSD events, other units were on hand displaying their resources. Attendees could visit the OCSD bloodhound, check out some of the department’s weaponry and tour the inside of one of the department’s helicopters.
“Glad I could still do (pushups),” said Joe Kantar, an OCSD helicopter pilot, who served 10 years in the Marines. “I was in Desert Storm. (PTSD) is a serious problem. I’m glad they put this on.”
Before the group hit the pavement for the final 22, OCSD Chaplain Charles Frost, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, delivered an invocation along with some personal sentiments.
“I know too well the effects of war on a person’s mind and heart,” Frost said. “I know how difficult it is to come back home and to have to act like nothing has happened. Freedom isn’t free and we all pay the price. Today we both love and lift up all our veterans and let them know we care.”
The event raised $2,820 for the Infinite Hero Foundation. A total of 222 (no kidding) T-shirts were sold. The Orange County Employees Association made a $500 donation and the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs provided a BBQ lunch free of charge.