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The Walk of America: Q&A with Frankie Perez
Veteran Frankie Perez tells us about participating in The Walk of America
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself – where you're from, and how you got involved in Walking with the Wounded and the upcoming Walk of America?
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but also raised in the amazing city of Lares. I have 10 brothers and sisters and also am a father of 5 beautiful kids. Since I was a kid, I always remember having a passion for military and arts. So eventually it became my "life style". I joined the US Army in 2001 as an Infantryman (11 Bravo). That changed my life because I was facing a different reality than most of my friends and family. In 2005 I was part of a convoy as a Gunner when our vehicle got hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device). After that incident, and many others during my 15 years, I struggle with things that I couldn't see, just felt. I was submerged in rage, guilt, low self-esteem, fear, super hyper-vigilance. I was living a miserable life inside my mind. I didn't know what to do or where to go or who to trust. So I became my worst enemy. In 2008 I tried to commit suicide, and I was intubated for over 30 hours.
I just survived a suicide attempt, and there's a reason for that. In 2014 I got involved with some of the most amazing people on Planet Earth, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) changed my life. There's no doubt I made a 180 degree turn after I participated in a retreat called "The Odyssey", and from that moment everything has been a blessing. I started to help and participated in other WWP events and now I am one of the Warrior Leaders here in Puerto Rico, and I also worked for other non-profits such as Mission Continues where I served as a platoon leader in Puerto Rico. I have also developed my own non-profit thanks to the amazing and effective programs that I participated in. My organization was born in May, 2017, and since then the Post-Traumatic Art Foundation Inc. is helping people providing seminars and workshops to educate on mental health. We have 5 areas, PTSD, TBI, Depression, Anxiety and Anger Management. We educate through art, and we're open for Veterans and Civilians of all ages. I have the privilege to collaborate with the Panamericano Hospital helping them with the mental health area since December 2017.
After that, I continue helping with my Foundation as much as I can and one day, I receive a phone call from the Wounded Warrior Project telling me that I was recommended to participate in this amazing expedition and of course I say "YES".
What does being involved with the project mean to you?
Being involved in this project means a lot for me because I know we are gonna help many veterans and their families, but also civilians facing the same difficulties as we are. Because at the end of the day we are just humans.
How does it feel to be working as part of a US/UK Transatlantic team?
I feel like a Wolf taking part in a huge Wolfpack with my brothers and sisters from the Armed Forces ... you have 3 UK Veterans, 2 US Veterans and 1 US Veteran from Puerto Rico - this is going to be EPIC!
Walking across a country the size of America is a big challenge, with plenty of different weather patterns and terrains. What are you looking forward to, what are you perhaps nervous about, ahead of such a big walk?
To be honest I can't wait to get to Yellowstone. But I'm excited not only because of the expedition, but because of the unique opportunity to help those souls that need us. I hope people realize the importance of Mental Health and that we are together.
How does the walk compare to the other challenges you've faced in your life?
I compare this walk with other challenges in my life and I have the same recipe for all of them. Team efforts, courage, commitment, self-discipline and the most important of all ... God.
How are you getting on with those small US/UK cultural - and language - differences within the team?
I don't see the differences, all I see is a family, and like every family, people come from different areas and that's how I see it. I know we're going to learn a lot from each other.
Have you met Prince Harry? How has he helped the project, and how is he inspiring you as you prepare for the big walk?
Unfortunately I haven't met Prince Harry. He encouraged me to continue this mission. Because I see a Prince, but also a Brother in Arms and that's enough for me. Because I respect him not only as a Prince, but also a Warrior like us.
What's the first thing you'll do when you reach New York?
I have no idea what's going to happen once we arrive in NY, but there's a pretty good chance that tears of joy will be there for sure.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom to help others in times of need?
All that I can share is that there's always a way to get better. That not everything is lost. That no matter how cold and selfish this world seems to be, things are going to be better. It's just that we need to accept the help and that's one the hardest parts because we don't know how to trust our invisible wounds. We are a family, and we are in this battle together. I declare War against PTSD and his allies, Depression, Anxiety, TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries) and Anger Management. We lost 22 veterans to suicide only in the USA, and in Puerto Rico since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Island, the suicides and the mental health of the people are paying the consequences. So I encourage you to see the bright side of yourself. We need more Warriors to win in the War against PTSD, and there's only two weapons of choice for this ... God and Love. Blessings to all of you from the beautiful Island Puerto Rico.
What aspect of being involved in the walk are you most proud of?
This is a dream come true for me so I'm just enjoying the moment and we are just trying to help as much as we can with this walk, that's what makes me proud. We are a team, we are a WOLFPACK, WE ARE FAMILY!
The Walk of America sets off from California on June 2, with the team set to arrive in New York on September 6th. Find out how to support the Veterans, donate and learn more about Walking with the Wounded at www.wwtw.org.uk/WOA.
Check out our other Q&As with the team below.