Shield of Faith Missions goes into the holidays with veterans in mind

Thee holiday season puts gratitude into high gear, but even before the thanks of Thanksgiving, Americans celebrate Veterans Day to pay respect to the men and women who protect and serve the United States. This past Veterans Day, Tampa Bay area nonprofit Shield of Faith Missions launched a special fundraising campaign to keep American warriors, symbolically, in focus throughout the holiday season. With its Operation Red Belt, sponsors can literally wear their thanks throughout the year, heightening awareness for active-duty service members and veterans. 

As SOF Missions president Damon Friedman says: “Operation Red Belt is a visible sign, a signal of the ongoing suicide epidemic among our active-duty service members and veterans. We’re hoping and praying that people will join forces with us and be a sponsor or a monthly supporter.” 

A donation to purchase a belt, starting at $22—the number 22 is associated with the number of daily suicides attributed to service members—adds you to the campaign. The belts are fashioned from high-quality leather and tooled with the distinctive armed forces terrain. Wear the red belt throughout the holiday season and beyond, to show solidarity to the men and women who serve the country and to raise awareness of the continuing mental hardships they face. 

It’s just the newest way SOF Missions supports the armed forces across the nation. Along with his wife, Dayna, Friedman founded SOF Missions while still deployed in Afghanistan. 

As Friedman, a former Marine and 20-year Air Force veteran, says, “I was at a turning point for me. After multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, the implications of combat took their toll and I found myself in a pretty dark place. At that time, I didn’t have the education of what PTSD was, what mild-traumatic brain injury was, how insomnia builds. When you start coupling all those things together, it can be devastating and disruptive to living. 

“Thankfully, there were just incredible people surrounding me and helping me get back to a place of hope. Health care professionals, a psychologist, a physical therapist. It was a tribe. It took a year and half, but afterward, I immediately deployed again so, in 2012, I was there in Afghanistan, looking around at my brothers and sisters alongside me and knowing the statistics, knowing I almost became a statistic myself, so I was empowered to do something for them when I returned to pay forward my own healing.”

That something was SOF Missions. Friedman has devoted himself to raising awareness and extending care to veterans from all over the U.S. by recreating the holistic care that worked to heal his own challenges.  

“It’s psychological, social, physical and spiritual,” Friedman says. “You grab those four domains and provide the appropriate treatments, and modalities, to each domain for each issue that exists. I wanted to recreate this holistic, whole health model for anyone who needs it.”

This holistic method became one of the core programs of SOF Missions, the Resiliency Project. As part of the project, SOF Missions hosts weeklong, “Be Resilient” clinics run out of Saddlebrook Resort, in Wesley Chapel, focusing on the psychological, physical, spiritual and social wellness of their military participants. 

SOF Missions offers the clinic and follow up to veterans, free of charge, regardless of branch served, MOS or discharge status. The clinic follows a special curriculum, written by Friedman and physician Marissa McCarthy, medical director of SOF Missions and the director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Training Program, at the University of South Florida. 

As part of the curriculum, participants will first be assessed and then treated for challenges from service and combat such as PTSD, chronic/acute pain, sleep issues, isolation, stress and moral injury. During the clinic, participants also take advantage of a variety of resources and tools of support such as cognitive or physical therapists, nutrition and social integration experts, acupuncture and yoga instruction, as well as spiritual mentors. All participants receive 365 days of follow up care and consultation with SOF Missions case manager and veterans come to Florida from more than 40 states. 

Friedman hopes Operation Red Belt will lead to more veterans or active-duty service members finding their way to help. 

“To all those corporations and leaders in our community, we hope you will learn more about what we’re doing and offer your support,” he says. “We’re not talking about financial support. We’re talking about sharing the work that we’re doing and helping us find veterans. If you can help us find a warrior so that we can save another life—then together we can make an atomic impact on veteran suicide.”

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