39-year-old Roy Brown grew up two doors down from his childhood friend, Francis McNally. The two bonded playing video games and sports, and so when Roy decided to head off to bootcamp, he convinced Francis to join him. After serving in Iraq, Francis returned home and committed suicide.
In response to alarming veteran suicide rates, for those under 34, three times that of non-veterans, Roy is now volunteering in honor of Francis, and more than 20 other men he served with during his time in the Marines who have taken their own lives. Founding Operation Patriots FOB (OPFOB) alongside his wife, Stephanie, Roy is offering free recreational peer-to-peer experiences for combat veterans and first responders to provide them with a brighter outlook on their future. From fishing to golf to hunting and more, Roy, a resident of Bluffton, South Carolina, is helping veterans find life purpose beyond the call of duty.
What inspires you to volunteer?
The mission hits close to home. I spent three years in Iraq, and have lost more friends and coworkers to suicide than I did to combat. I’ve lost over 20 guys that I served with to suicide. I was sick of sitting on the sidelines. My wife and I put our heads together to try to reduce veteran suicides. In the area we live in, there are approximately 120,000 veterans, so we didn’t have to go far to start helping people.
Describe your volunteerism with Operation Patriots FOB.
Our organization is a place for vets, first responders and their families to be themselves, feel comfortable around other like-minded veterans and hopefully build a network that they can lean on when times get tough. I serve as founder and chairman of the board, and my wife and I wear many hats throughout the organization. We fundraise, host events, plan activities for veterans including guided hunts, fishing, golfing trips, concerts, shooting or just hanging around by the bonfire. Any activity that gets vets back outdoors and fosters positive experiences through outdoor recreational activity. What we’re doing is a big team effort. Without our volunteers, none of this would have come to light. Our volunteers are amazing people, most of them are veterans or spouses of vets, and they [work hard for us] everyday.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
An older couple called me, their son is a Navy vet and lives locally to me. They explained he was going through a really rough time and they had been unable to reach him. Myself and another guy hopped in a truck, drove over to his house and knocked on his door. We just sat and talked with him for an hour. Once we felt he was in an ok place, we left. A few months after that, the man left me a voicemail, and said that just before we rang the doorbell, he had a rifle out and he was about to commit suicide. It gives you goosebumps when you hear it. If we just save one, then it’s mission accomplished. Our goal is to save many. We believe in our hearts that day that we did save one. At the same time, we know we have a lot more work to do. Since that time, I’ve lost two more guys to suicide. It’s a double-edged sword. You want to feel good about the ones you are making an impact on, but at the same time, it’s hard to feel good about it when you’re still losing guys. That’s what keeps the fire burning for us to keep pushing forward.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
The good Lord blesses some of us more than others. It’s our responsibility to give back. That’s what makes this country as special as it is.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
That I get to meet a lot of cool vets. I get to hang out with a lot of interesting vets, that’s rewarding. I’m personally going through this as well. I’ve had my struggles. We built this organization based off of what helped me the most with my PTSD. Every day I get to get up, work with veterans, help veterans and play with veterans.
How have you continued to volunteer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
At our main facility, we have 268 acres. When everybody was stuck at home, veterans could reach out to us, come out to our property and be outside, safe and around other vets. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the number of veteran and active duty suicides went up. Even now with the end of the Afghanistan war, we’re still seeing a surge of suicides amongst vets and active duty. Our services are needed now more than ever.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
At the very least, if you’re a veteran, pick up the phone and call your battle buddies. Vets and family members, pick up the phone and call them and see how they’re doing. Unfortunately around the holidays, it’s the worst time of year for veterans with depression and suicide. If you want to do more, research and locate your local veteran organization and volunteer, or participate as a veteran.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
Blessed. I feel very blessed to be in the position I am to give back. I have the capacity to take care of my bills every month, and there are a lot of veterans that are struggling a lot more than myself. I am also blessed for the struggles I’ve gone through personally, for the past almost 17 years, because that made me stronger to be able to to deal with these situations and give back.
How can readers help?
We are a 100% volunteer run organization. Every dollar we raise goes a long way, and we welcome new volunteers. Please visit our website for more information about how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Roy Brown? Find local volunteer opportunities.