New challenge to raise awareness of veterans’ struggles with PTSD

Throw out the ice water; Mace, water boarding event set for Friday at VFW

By Kevin Spradlin

The ice bucket challenge simply didn’t seem to cut it.

This new challenge, Rockingham resident John Popowich said, is not about undermining the value and importance of ALS. But Popowich said he believes ice water simply isn’t enough to get people’s attention of the struggles combat military veterans face on a daily basis. Including veterans right here in Richmond County.

A screen shot of the man whose video of a mace-and-water board challenge that inspired Rockingham resident John Popowich to host an event Friday at VFW Post 4203 in Rockingham.

A screen shot of the man whose video of a mace-and-water board challenge that inspired Rockingham resident John Popowich to host an event Friday at VFW Post 4203 in Rockingham.

Popowich, 31, was inspired when he watched a YouTube video of a man who volunteers to be maced, then water boarded, in a 69-second video that includes a personal message.

“If you’re having problems,” he says, “reach out for help.”

Popowich, a Marine Corps veteran with two combat tours in Iraq who was wounded in Fallujah on April 9, 2004, wants to help lessen the stigma placed on those who do seek help.

“I have several buddies that struggle” with post-traumatic stress disorder, Popowich said. “I’ve really been struggling the past 10 days.”

Popowich will host a new challenge beginning at 6:30 p.m. at VFW Post 4203 in Rockingham. He will try to replicate the efforts made in the video, which has now been viewed more than 20,000 times. The ALS challenge has raised more than $11.7 million according to recent reports. However, Popowich said there will be no collection cans.

“It’s not about money,” he said. “I want to see the community come out. People need to know about this. Twenty-two veterans are killing themselves every single day. If they’re not doing it with guns, they’re doing it with alcohol and drugs. I’ve been there, too.”

Many of those veterans, according to the February 2013 report to which Popowich refers, are combat vets who struggle with PTSD and depression. According to a CNN report in November 2013, that figure might be conservative — only 21 states provided data to the Department of Defense. Among states not included were California, Texas and Illinois — three of the country’s five largest states.

“I think it’s something everybody needs to know about,” Popowich said. “Half of the people in this community don’t know what PTSD means. They think it’s an STD.”

Popowich said he’d like to see the community turn out to the event and “show me they give a (expletive).”

Already, he said, nearly two dozen veterans and friends have committed to the challenge Friday.

“I would love to see a line of 50 men,” he said. “You don’t have to get water boarded, too. At least get sprayed in the face with mace or water boarded.”

Sammy Brigman will be in that line. Brigman, 32, a Hamlet native who lives in Florida, will be in town during a three-week break from working as a mechanic for a racing team that travels the country. He and Popowich have been friends since junior high school, Brigman said.

Brigman said he and Popowich were two in a trio of friends who were “wilder, crazier … I guess you could say dumber than the rest.”

Not a military veteran, Brigman said many of his junior high and high school friends served in the military while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were going on.

PTSD, he said, has “affected a lot of my friends that I grew up with.”

Larry Evans, of VFW Post 4230 and one of two primary caretakers of Richmond County Veterans’ Memorial Park, said he plans to be there. He won’t be in line to stake the challenge but it’s not because it’s not worthwhile.

“I’m too old to be doing that stuff,” Evans said. “If I was a young man, John’s age, I’d probably be fool enough to try it.”

Evans said no matter how awareness is raised, the message that veterans need help is an urgent one.

“I wish (Popowich) all the success in the world,” Evans said. “I think it’s for the right reasons. It needs to be done.”

Evans, who suffered from PTSD for 30 years before seeking professional help through the Department of Veterans Affairs, encouraged anyone who needs it to seek professional help from a VA or private counselor.

“Nobody who goes through that stuff is ever going to get any better” without it, Evans said.

Popowich said there will be a safety briefing — standard fare before any military training exercise — to caution people about touching their eyes after being sprayed with mace. The idea is to pull people out of their comfort zone.

“It’s gonna hurt,” Popowich said. “That’s the whole point of it. I want them to feel the pain of a veteran who’s ready to blow his (expletive) brains out.”

There could be an app for that

According to an report published Monday, a veteran who overcame the temptation to commit suicide has helped create POS REP. Short for Position Report, it’s a free iPhone app designed to help military veterans who are in distress or need help adjusting to civilian life.

It’s still in testing mode, according to the article, and focuses on the Los Angeles area.

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  • John Popowich

    Thanks for the support man! It means so much to me! I pray we have a good turnout, but if only 4 or 5 show up I’ll be happy. If I’m the only one I guess I’ll have to spray myself.

  • Patricia Davis

    The public needs to understand PTSD, how it effects individuals, families, and friends. The dynamics of PTSD greatly effect the quality of life and can be managed with appropriate treatment. PTSD effects more than military members. Anyone who has experienced a personal trauma at any age may experience PTSD; nurses, doctors, EMS staff, police officers, vehicular accidents, rape victims, and loss of a loved one. Coping mechanisms become less effective during the aging process and the ability to cope alone with PTSD becomes extremely challenging. Seek the appropriate professional help. Thank you Mr. Popowich for raising awareness.

    • John Popowich

      Thank you Mrs. Davis for your support. I also know that PTSD can be caused by any traumatic experience. I am not downing anyone that has been through things that have caused them to have PTSD, but this particular event is dedicated strictly to veterans with PTSD caused by combat. I do agree that PTSD needs to something that people are aware about no matter how the person gets it. It is a disorder that is blind to race, religion, or any other difference in a person.

  • John Popowich

    Thanks for the article man, and thanks for coming out and supporting us. My shirt says April 9th, 2004. But that’s ok

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