TUSCOLA, Ill. (WCIA) — Transitioning from military service into the civilian life can be hard for many veterans. A gym owner in Tuscola saw the need for a safe space for vets and he filled it.
He started a group designed to help veterans deal with the changes of life after the military called 217 Vets. It started with the owner and other veterans hanging out every week. When he saw the effect it was having on the men, he knew he needed to do more.
“It’s a platoon, it’s a squad, it’s a company again,” said veteran Camron Frazee. “It’s everybody that close,” said veteran Camron Frazee.
It’s a group dedicated to veterans trying to find their place in everyday life. They travel from all over Douglas County to meet once a week. The meetings started at a pub until they decided they needed a bigger space.
“Let’s try to do it on a scale way bigger than just Tuscola,” said veteran and 217 Vets founder Gunner Edwards. “And that’s when we started putting in the work and the hours and talking and just having conversations about it.”
The Barracks is where members talk to people who understand what they’ve been going through.
“The hardest thing when you come back is just, not even deployment, just military in general, it’s finding that that that structure, that stability that you had with your guys,” Frazee said.
When moving on from the military, many veterans fall into depression, experience substance abuse and can even lead to an unstable social life.
Edwards said that with 217 vets, they address the risk of suicide by reinstilling comradery.
“When people get out of the military, they don’t miss the kicking in doors or shooting guns or anything like that,” Edwards added. “99% of the time they just miss the people.”
And it’s those relationships that keep veterans coming back.
“He opens the doors for really any veteran to come in,” Frazee said. “I kind of took advantage of that and I’ve been here ever since. They’ve become a family to me.”
While the group does provide traditional services for veterans, Edwards said it was important to make it feel like a lounge. He said these connections keep veterans going.
“It’s a breath of fresh air for four veterans, I feel like, and this is something that we’ve needed for a long time,” Frazee said.
The group will be partnering with Grunt Style to host a fundraising event for veterans in the area. That will be taking place in Tuscola on Aug. 27th.