RIDGELAND, S.C. (WSAV) — A somber event was held in Ridgeland on Sunday. The 2nd annual Light the Fire ceremony was hosted by Operation Patriots Forward Operating Base(OPFOB).
OPFOB is a grassroots movement in the Lowcountry that helps veterans heal mentally following their service and find their purpose beyond the call of duty.
“OPFOB is a Lowcountry outreach for primarily our combat veterans, but it’s open to all veterans. We have 268 acres here and what we primarily like to do is provide a place for our veterans to regroup and refocus which is one of our taglines, but to build a place for them to come together and build comradery with each other, with people that have gone through some of the same similar situations,” explained Roy Brown Jr., Founder of Operation Patriot FOB.
Rain or shine, a fire will be kept lit and maintained by members of the organization for 22 days representing the 22 veterans, on average, that take their own lives every single day.
“We wanted to shed some light on suicide prevention if you will, veteran suicide. On average, we’re losing 22 veterans a day to suicide, which is completely unacceptable. Last year we came up with the idea, let’s not take away from Memorial Day, but let’s, for 22 days, sit out here and have a bonfire and bring out different veterans and veteran organizations to share their story,” Brown said.
Veterans in attendance, like Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry, points to how hard the pandemic was for their mental health – specifically, the isolation that was endured by many.
That’s why their mission of bringing patriots together and getting those that are struggling the help they need, is now more important than ever by preventing more lives from being lost too soon.
“This organization has really found the thing that connects veterans and it’s not being in a office with a psychologist, its being with your brothers and sisters who served in the same footsteps you did, and shared the battlefield or shared the service in general,” explained Petry.
“We’re able to build that trust and that confidence knowing that this person understands what I’m talking about, this person understands what I’m going through. This person understands that they’re not going to quit on me no matter how long it takes or what we gotta do to get me the help I need,” he added.
Last year, Operation Patriot FOB served over 750 veterans, active duty and their family members.
The commencement ceremony for the fire is set for Memorial Day on Monday, May 30.