Brian Gibson spent 26 years serving his country as a member of the U.S. Army and witnessed things most of us never will.
But it wasn’t the unspeakable scenes from combat that continued to haunt him when he returned home to Paducah, Ky. It was the thought of what his fellow veterans go through in their mental struggles that caught his attention.
So he decided to do something about it.
“Having served this country for 26 years as a soldier and combat medic, I lost more of my brothers and sisters to suicide when we got home than I did during our time deployed in combat,” Gibson said.
Gibson is the founder and president of Project Diehard LLC.
My wife Deb and I happened to meet him and his wife, Helene, at a Paducah restaurant a few weeks back. It was by chance. Deb was considering something on the menu, and the waiter said the couple next to us had ordered the same. A conversation was started, and later Gibson shared about his organization.
“In dealing with the VA (Veteran’s Administration) in two separate instances, both personally in beginning this process that took over a year when we began, and in helping our son (Steven), who is a wounded warrior suffering from traumatic brain injury, we have seen how overwhelmed and understaffed the VA truly is,” Gibson explained.
Project Diehard is a 501c3 organization. Its mission statement reads, “To bring public awareness to veteran suicide and to assist veterans in coping with the stress and difficulties in transitioning from active duty military to civilian life.”
The idea for Project Diehard came about while Gibson and some friends were riding motorcycles.
“While tooling on the bike with some fellow veterans, it was brought up there should be a place that veterans could stay while working through the VA,” Gibson recalled. “This place would give them a safe environment with a support system to help them get the help they need. I wanted to bring awareness to veteran suicide, which led me to start Project Diehard.”
Gibson said Project Diehard started as a tribute for the motorcycle brothers “I lost that I served with. I’d go out to my shop and tool (work) on the bike. This work is a source of PTSD therapy for me.”
Gibson added that after some long hours of prayer, Project Diehard was born on April 22 of last year.
“With the help of dedicated patrons, we received our federal tax-exempt status (501c3) on Sept. 10,” he said.
According to Gibson, an average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide.
“We have no way of getting an accurate number if the stigma attached to suicide exists,” Gibson stressed.
“What leads to suicide? I wish we knew because if it had not been for the support of my wife, my church and my friends, I would just be a number today.”
Gibson’s long-range goal is to build a facility where troubled veterans can go for help. His vision is starting in Paducah, but he hopes to expand into neighboring states and communities, including Southeast Missouri.
His facility will be called Fort Hope.
“Fort Hope will be a place where a veteran can come and stay for a day, a week, a month, or even up to a year,” Gibson said. “With food and shelter provided, whether they come to hang out and talk among other veterans or they need assistance working through the VA system, these veterans will be welcomed and accommodated.
“Fort Hope will be the main complex for Project Diehard. The end goal is to have at least one Forward Operating Base (FOB) in every state.”
Fort Hope is still a dream and vision, but Gibson is working hard at fundraising to get the project started.
“Fort Hope is still on paper and we are raising funds to purchase the land,” he said. “We just filed our IRS 990 and are waiting for them to send it back so we can complete our grant applications.”
Gibson’s vision will take a lot of fundraising, and he’s more than willing to put in the hard work necessary.
“Our goal is to have 90 percent of funds raised go to helping a veteran. At no time will a board member or volunteer take a paycheck from Project Diehard,” Gibson emphasized. “Together we can make a difference. Your donation is our ammunition to fight this war against veteran suicide.”
If you would like to donate to Project Diehard or for additional information, Gibson can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 270-366-6189. You can also visit the website projectdiehard.org .
Chris Pruett is publisher of the Daily American Republic. He can be reached at email@example.com .