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Kilgore College students launch Silent Soldier event for PTSD awareness

Longview News-Journal - 11/15/2017

U.S. Army veteran Ricky Henderson, 25, has seen the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder firsthand, both in his comrades and in himself.

Now, as a civilian, he's trying to use those experiences to help others.

"Unfortunately in the military you don't talk about (PTSD)," Henderson said. "It's a dark side of the moon kind of thing."

So when fellow Kilgore College student Javorus Poole wanted to host an event to raise awareness for PTSD in soldiers, Henderson was immediately on board.

Henderson and Poole will host Silent Soldier beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Eitelman Room at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center. The two-part event will include performances, speakers and information booths from local mental health resources in the afternoon and a memorial in the evening.

Henderson said he wants soldiers struggling with PTSD to know they aren't alone.

"The only way to fix the problem is to know there is a problem," Henderson said.

Poole, 24, is the founder of A Collective Team Inspiring Visions Everywhere, a group that tries to promote healthy lifestyles and raise awareness for diseases and mental health issues through such events as Silent Soldier.

Poole said he wanted to show people how prevalent PTSD is in the Longview community.

"Here in Longview, regardless of if you fought for our country or you're just a regular citizen, I feel like we are all silent (about PTSD)," Poole said. " I wanted to give people a chance to speak."

Sunday's event will include the opportunity for veterans to share their experiences onstage, as well as poetry, dances and musical performances about the difficulties of mental illness.

In the evening, Silent Soldier will honor the memories of two soldiers who committed suicide after battling PTSD. The program will include testimony from their mothers, as well as a musical tribute from Shelby Adkins and poetry from Trina "Titi Ladette" Cleveland and Datonya Bradley.

Poole said he hopes he can prevent someone else from going through the difficulties of PTSD. He said he plans to make Silent Soldier an annual event and wants ACTIVE to sponsor a 5K run in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.

Ricky Homer, 66, president of Chapter 987 of Vietnam Veterans of America, said there has been some progress in dealing with PTSD since the 1970s. He said veterans in his organization often still deal with it or had to figure out how to take care of the disorder by themselves.

Homer said the main challenge is that veterans "walk through life thinking they're the only one" struggling with PTSD and often don't know about the resources available to them. He said Silent Soldier can help them make those connections.

"Veterans are proud of their heritage and what they have done for this country and what they've been through," Homer said. "But they won't tell you they need help because of the pride they have."

Admission to the event is free, but Poole said donations will be collected for veterans organizations.

Henderson said he thinks speaking publicly about his battles with PTSD can make a positive impact by encouraging more people to do the same.

"There are a lot of veterans with PTSD, myself included, that are trained to deal with it on their own, trained to be that hard-faced soldier that doesn't show their emotions," Henderson said. "That is one of the worst things that's hurting us: knowing there's a problem and not speaking up about it."

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