Operation Patriots FOB ‘Light the Fire’ ceremony aims to shed light on veteran suicide and mental health

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) – Retired Master Sargeant Leroy Petry is lighting a fire and igniting an open conversation at Operation Patriots FOB.

“I think honest conversation and dialogue are what we crave and what we’re yearning for,” MSgt. Leroy Petry

As part of their annual Light the Fire Event, Leroy and other veterans are hoping to highlight what they say is a serious problem.

Program organizers say this fire will be manned around the clock for the next 22 days signifying the 22 veterans on average that lose their lives daily to suicide.

“Which is completely unacceptable,” Roy “JR” Brown said.

Founder of Operation Patriots FOB and veteran Roy Brown says he created this retreat as a way to bring former service members together to help veterans overcome obstacles they often face.

“So last year we came up with the idea, let’s not take away from Memorial Day, but for 22 days, let’s sit out here and have a bon fire and bring out different veterans and veteran organizations to share their story,” Brown said.

MSrgt Leroy knows firsthand the struggles that can come along with military service.

He says he lost his hand in combat after throwing a grenade away from his fellow service members, a move that earned him the medal of honor.

But one that also came with challenges.

Leroy says he struggled with alcohol abuse and strained relationships.

“I experienced physical courage my entire life. But what I lacked was the emotional courage to reach out to my friends and family and network of folks that would support me and tell them honestly that I was having a hard time and I needed help,” Petry said.

After getting that very help, he now shares his experience with other veterans hoping to help them before it’s too late.

“I want the next generation, and all generations to understand that’s it ok to ask for help and it’s ok to expose your weaknesses and work on them and turn them into strengths,” Petry said.

The group hopes that by sitting around the campfire they can save lives.

Brown says that on Memorial Day, the group will start a bigger fire to celebrate the lives of those lost in the line of duty.

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