Sweeping across the dusty San Bernardino Mountains, USS Makin Island (LHD 8) Sailor, Damage Controlman 1st Class Patrick Butters cut through the canyon, leading a pack of 42 motorcycles roaring and rumbling through 40 miles of Ortega Highway like a stampede.
Butters helped organize an event hosted by American Infidels, a veteran’s motorcycle club in Trabuco Canyon, Sept. 30.
The Veterans Benefit Poker Run set out to raise money and awareness for wounded veterans, donating 100% of the proceeds to 22KILL. 22KILL is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about veteran suicide and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), and to help veterans through empowerment and prevention programs.
“Rides like this help bring awareness to the veteran suicide pandemic,” Butters said. “We are here to help our fellow veterans and their families, educate the public on current veteran’s issues, and to help our communities any way we can.”
Butters’ passion for improving the lives of veterans has helped shape his goals for his career after the Navy.
“I’m in the middle of working on my degree,” he said. “My intention is to get my bachelor’s in behavioral psychology with an emphasis on addiction. After I retire, I want to work directly with vets. The suicide in veterans is mostly linked to substance abuse. Those demons tend to get bottled up, and most lean on things that make us forget. That tends to be alcohol or drugs.”
Butters uses experiences in his own life to help other veterans who might be going through the same issues. He grew up in a lower-middle class household in Las Vegas, where he witnessed some of his family lose battles with addiction and substance abuse.
“I’ve had two family members commit suicide,” Butters said, “so this hits really close to home. And in 2008, my ex-wife was 7 months pregnant and lost the baby. One of my Chiefs noticed something wasn’t quite right with me and asked me how I was doing. Sometimes all you need to do is talk.”
A Veteran’s Association report from 2012 found that an average of 22 veterans die by suicide every day.
Through its own programs and partnerships with organizations across the nation, 22KILL offers veterans programs and resources to help them find purpose outside of the military. It also allows them to reconnect with fellow brothers and sisters and regain that sense of camaraderie in their civilian life.
“The other thing is post traumatic growth,” Butters said. “Not focusing on the stress. Who wants to sit and think about the negative stuff. Getting vets into different rehabilitation programs, whether it’s painting, scuba diving, fishing, hunting; things to help them grow to see something beyond what’s in their head. Keeping them occupied and showing them there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
By the end of the ride, the Veterans Benefit Poker Run raised $6,500 .
“Seeing that many people show up, and raising that much money, my cheeks hurt from smiling,” Butters said. “We are just trying to as much as we can, and every penny counts.”
Wearing a grin that stretches from ear to ear, Butters rides ahead of his pack, men and women converging from different paths to share the same dusty mountain road. Their goal is the same: to bring support to veterans and their families.