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My dad was larger than life. He was 6’3”, 350 pounds and had this giant biker beard. I started riding with him when I was 6 years old and went with him every chance I could. Later on, when he couldn’t ride a two-wheeler anymore, he got an 18.5-foot custom trike. He was the Southwest Oklahoma regional president of Bikers Against Child Abuse, which advocates for children facing abuse. He and the other bikers coordinated with judges and child protective services to accompany these kids to their court dates. They’d pick them up, put biker vests on them and make them feel like they were part of the group. When the defendant was in the courtroom trying to intimidate a child, these burly bikers were there with a presence. The kids loved riding with “Panman” — that was my dad’s call name — on the big trike.
He and my uncle were Marines. Every badge you could think of, my uncle had it on his uniform. He had a long list of deployments; anything that came up, he wanted to be there. My dad served in Vietnam, but he didn’t really talk about it. I remember going to visit him at a commitment hospital when I was 5 or 6 because he wasn't himself. After he got out of there, it was never spoken about again.
Both of them died by suicide. My dad was 58 years old. They were the strongest men I knew, but they didn’t know how to ask for help.
It’s been 15 years since my dad died and eight years since we lost my uncle. You would have never known either one of them was dealing with anything. A couple years ago, I found out about the 22KILL Leaders in Construction group, which is part of the One Tribe Foundation and works to raise awareness about the high number of veterans — 22 a day — who die by suicide. I wanted to get involved, and I wanted to get my colleagues involved too. People are always commenting on how great I am at wrangling people. Funny enough, a lot of that is because my husband is the lead singer in a heavy metal band called Edge of Insanity. I’m his promoter, so I’m used to wrangling musicians, vendors and fans. This ended up being no different.
I wanted to get involved, and I wanted to get my colleagues involved too.
Every event that 22KILL and One Tribe have, I try to volunteer. I’ll help with email blasts, getting sponsors, asking for donations and gift baskets for raffles. We had a Suffolk cornhole team at a recent fundraiser. There are many vets who are on the committees for these organizations, so you can tell it’s a passion of theirs. They also have people tell their stories at events, and they offer counseling and mentorship to new people coming into the group.
What I heard from family members at 22KILL was similar to what I experienced: we had no clue what our loved ones were going through. You constantly question yourself and ask, “What did I miss?” They all said the same thing, that there was no sign. So, I’m glad to be part of an organization that encourages people to ask for help.
As far as the vets who I’ve heard share their stories, I haven’t been able to bring myself to make a personal connection just yet. But I do appreciate the camaraderie. The unity of it is what resonates with me.
Shirley Lutz wears many hats in our Dallas office, including that of Senior Project Manager on our Terminal at Katy Trail project. She is currently rebuilding her daddy’s custom trike.
To learn more about the One Tribe Foundation, click here. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you can get free and confidential support by calling the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
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