History of Operation Zero
Everyone has heard the stories and felt the pain of losing a veteran to suicide. In the Viet nam Vets Legacy Vets Motorcycle club, the loss was too great. To follow is the history of how the Viet nam Vets Legacy Vets MC started a Veterans Suicide Prevention program that would become “Operation Zero, Zero Veterans attempt Suicide.”
On 11 July 2015, Crazy Troop Alabama had a meeting and one member named Skatter shared his story and struggles with suicide. He explained his desire to do something in the club to stop veteran suicide. He was not sure what, but something, a ride, a call list, get a hotline, something as he had already lost several friends to suicide. The charter agreed and would take time till the next meeting to think of ideas.
At the Nationals in Detroit Aug 2015, Stone the President of the Southeast region read a letter from Frenche, the founding member of the club, about how the Legacy needed to embrace a cause, perhaps veteran suicide, something they felt strongly about, like how much POW/MIA meant for Viet nam Vets. Many of those members were in agreeance and Mudflap, the State president of Alabama, announced that Crazy Troop was working on a plan, introduced skatter, and asked to hear ideas from the members after the meeting. A number of brothers approached skatter and mudflap after the meeting with ideas, thoughts, and concerns.
Once the members returned home, Skatter came up with an initial concept of a stop sign with something in it. Mudflap got to work and drew up the first idea, which, as Iron Joe and Skatter pointed out, was actually a pentagon, not an octagon. Staring at the POW/MIA flag on the wall, Mudflap designed 7 concepts.
The ideas were first sent to Iron Joe for approval to be shared among the regions for input and discussion. The members of Crazy Troop Charter also began feeding their input into the design. Torero expressed his concern over the use of the number 22, remarking that 22 means something else in our club and that the statistic of 22 Veterans committing suicide was fabricated. After discussion with members across the nation, two designs were at the forefront. Both designs had their controversies and at least one member it was shared with disliked some aspect of the design.
The red stop sign, internationally recognized, remained, but the two internal designs were very different. The dog tags with 22 Stars, and the message “Stop Veteran Suicide” still had the stigmatism of the number 22. The second design is a veteran in civilian attire kneeing over in duress, clutching his dog tags, with 5 stars representing each branch of the armed forces, a pistol at his feet, and the same message “Stop Veteran Suicide”. Much of the second design concept came from Stone and Mudflap’s wife Tiger. Stone wanted a strong message and to add in the emblem how veterans most commonly attempt suicide, firearms, prescription meds, and their actions on alcohol. However Mudflap only incorporated the pistol to make the patch easier to produce. After a discussion with True and Hoppy, it was decided to drop the pistol as we don’t want to portray veterans as dangerous and begin to give lawmakers cause to disarm veterans. It was also expressed that a stronger message needed to be the motto and the campaign needed to be given a name. A Strong message that would help us reduce veteran suicide, and gain public support. Mudflap discussed the concern with skatter, who came up with the original design concept. A few days passed with no clear direction or ideas.
Skatter and Flyby spoke with Mudflap about the Veteran Suicide Prevention project and suggested it be like POW/MIA, a symbol to be used across the nation, not just for the club to use. Torero then mentioned making it a nonprofit, to be part of the club but separate so that many others would join under this design. That following day, Mudflap discovered a report about veteran suicide, that gave great detail and better information than the VA April 2011 Fact Sheet. Many of the veterans committing suicide were older Vietnam vets, whose children had moved away and/or been divorced and given up on life. The report also remarked that the number of veteran suicides were actually averaging much higher than 22 because the VA report was only focused on a few states, and not those with larger veteran populations. The report also remarked that an additional 7-9 veterans attempt suicide each day. Even where death was not the outcome, many of them had severely injured themselves. This appalling statistic is what lead to Operation Zero, “Zero Veterans Attempt suicide”. No more would the men and women suffering with PTSD and thoughts of suicide be forgotten, as the VNVLV made a decision to bypass the baseless 22 and reach out to all veterans suffering. No one left behind, and the message was added to the patch, “I will Never Quit on Life”!