WASHINGTON, Sept. 13, 2016 — “Who are we? Rescue 22!” the Puerto Rican veteran shouts to his team of cyclists as they gather around the recumbent and hand cyclists who are wheelchair-bound for group photos before beginning the Face of America charity ride.
For retired Army Sgt. Norberto Roman, founding the Rescue 22 cycling team for the Face of America two-day, 110-mile bike ride from Arlington, Virginia, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was about the fellowship and sense of family he receives from the group while they spread the importance of suicide prevention.
The Face of America team consists of active-duty and veteran service members from all eras and is sponsored by the non-profit group, Rescue 22. The mission of Rescue 22 is to encourage veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to seek help through physical health and wellness programs, to mentor and provide encouragement in a veteran’s journey of rehabilitation.
“Our mission is to stop the suicides,” Roman said. “Our mission is to reach every veteran, to let them know that we are here, that they are not alone. We need to fix this. We want to raise awareness, and we want to stop this, whatever it takes. We want to stop the suicides.”
Roman, who served 12 years as a senior cargo specialist was medically retired due to PTSD and chronic bronchitis acquired during deployments to Iraq from 2003-2005. He said he takes this mission personally.
“I tried to commit suicide myself in Iraq, and I went through eight years of hell, through PTSD treatment, and I’m blessed to be here today,” he said. “I want to use not only my story but I want to use what I do. I’m a triathlete. I cycle, I swim, and I run. In my experience, it’s the best rehabilitation ever out there.”
Roman said he feels Suicide Prevention Month is crucial and he tries to promote the awareness throughout the year.
“Every month, every week, every day, suicide prevention is a huge deal,” he said. “This is a responsibility of everybody. This is the responsibility for military and for civilians. There are people out there suffering and taking their lives because of depression or anxiety. We all need to be involved in this, contacting our buddies, calling them over the phone, using social media, staying in touch.”
Teammates from All Eras
One way Roman keeps in touch with his battle buddies is events like Face of America, which also allows him to meet veterans from all eras. He said they’ve had veterans from the Vietnam era, Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.“It doesn’t matter what era you are from, you can do this,” he said. “We have people with disability issues bigger than others as well but we start together and we finish together. We don’t leave anybody behind. It’s not about competing. It’s about finishing together as a family.”