By Renée Jean, Business and Tourism Reporter
Two carloads of turkeys from Patrick Brady of Cheyenne are among a flood of recent donations that’s helping Glen Chavez get his turkey drive for military families across the finish line this year despite crushing inflation and a shortage of birds caused by avian influenza.
“I was in the Army myself stationed in Germany, and I remember how lonely Thanksgiving was for me personally,” Brady told Cowboy State Daily. “After I saw your guys’ article about Glen in Cowboy State Daily, and I saw his phone number was there, I just gave him a call and said, ‘What do you need?’”
Calls From All Over The US
Brady’s is among dozens of donations and stories that have surfaced in response to a recent Cowboy State Daily story about the annual turkey drive Cheyenne barber Glen Chavez puts on for military families.
Chavez said the donations have put him halfway to the finish line for this year’s effort with hopes to feed about 3,000. He’ll also collect donations from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Appaloosa Broadcasting parking lot, located at 1019 E. Lincolnway in Cheyenne to get the rest of the way there.
“There’s a buzz going on in this community and actually throughout the United States,” Chavez said about his mission to feed soldiers who are away from home during the holidays. “I’m receiving calls from Texas, Oregon, Florida — people from all over the country.”
Many of the stories he’s heard have been heartbreaking, he said.
“Veterans who have told me that they thought about it, that they contemplated suicide on this very day, Thanksgiving Day, because of how lonely it becomes,” Chavez said. “They were just a young person away from their homes for the first time and nobody reaches out to them.”
Epidemic Of Loneliness
There’s a real need to highlight awareness of mental health for military families, and for everyone else, Chavez said.
“I think loneliness is an epidemic,” he said. “Why don’t we treat it like one?”
Brady, meanwhile, is a veteran who said he wishes that mental health was treated with the same importance as physical health.
“The stigma against going to see the shrink, that needs to go away,” he said. “And I think the stigma is even stronger in the military.
“And I think it’s really strong when we’re talking about, you know, these men and women over at F.E. Warren, who all probably have extremely high security clearances and are worried that if they go see a counselor they’re going to … their security clearance may be in trouble.”
More civilian counselors with military experience also would be helpful, Brady said.
“I’m a combat veteran. I went to Iraq twice,” he said. “And I tried to talk to civilian counselors about, you know, the issues I went through and stuff that I saw and they, you know, God bless them, they’re doing their best, but they don’t understand. They don’t get it.”
More veterans might seek mental health if there was more encouragement to look outside the military structure, Brady added.
“I mean, the military has got great medics, and I’m sure they have great mental health counselors, but I think there’s this idea that whatever I tell my therapist who is a member of the military, it’s going to somehow get back to my commander.”
Christmas Is Next
Chavez is not resting on his laurels. He’s already working on a couple of new events in December for military families to extend the connection and caring for military personnel that his Thanksgiving drive represents.
The first involves giving fully decorated Christmas trees to military families going through hard times or a unique situation. Names have been provided to him through family readiness programs.
“We’ll give the trees, fully decorated, to the families so they will have it for Christmas,” Chavez said.
The second program he’s working on is an idea Chavez has modeled after Bob Hope’s efforts for the troops.
“He would go someplace and have a big artist come in,” Chavez said. “So, I’m going to attack Christmas (blues) as well, with holiday spirits and concert music. Billy Jack’s Pizza is going to provide all the food, and we’re going to complement them with two drinks.”
Chavez hopes the Christmas party will become an annual thing, and that it will eventually attract big names to come and perform for military in Wyoming as a way to thank them and their families for their service.
“So, Carrie Underwood, if you’re listening, we need your help. We want to address mental illness, and the loneliness, and the suicide rate in our military,” Chavez said.
For this year, Chavez has been offered the hangar at the Cheyenne airport as a place for a big performance to salute the troops Dec. 9.
“Obviously, Carrie can’t make it this year,” Chavez said. “I’m having an artist, Katy Calhoun, who I’m flying in from Nashville. She heard about this and wants to perform for the troops, so we are going to do that.”