SPONSORED — Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day, and that’s a statistic Aaron Quinonez simply can’t stand for.
Quinonez, who was recently recognized by WSECU and KIRO Radio with a Hometown Hero award, founded Operation Restore Hope to help veterans transitioning back into post-military life. In his experience, the best way to do this is through service.
“When we join the military, we join to serve our country and to serve others,” he said. “And when we’re there we learn to serve our brothers and sisters. It just becomes a part of who we are.”
For many veterans transitioning back into the real world, finding a career as a firefighter, EMT or police officer is a comfortable fit because it puts them back into the role of serving others. However, for those who do not find such fulfillment, fitting in can be a difficult and painful process.
“For veterans who do well in the military and serve faithfully and honorably, when we come out of the military we struggle,” Quinonez said. “We struggle finding our place because we have that servant’s heart. Operation Restore Hope is a way to remind them who they are and the design that God gave them.”
Backed by Quinonez’s nonprofit organization, Q Missions, Operation Restore Hope offers veterans the opportunity to travel to Mexico to serve those in need. Q-Missions also provides suicide prevention training and education, something Quinonez said is desperately needed. That’s because, for many veterans, readjusting to society makes them feel irrelevant.
“It’s not the PTSD,” Quinonez said. “It’s the feeling that we don’t make a difference anymore, and that our lives don’t have value. That’s why guys commit suicide.”
Through the missions, which take up to 18 veterans at a time to poverty-stricken Mexico, veterans work together to serve in villages, building homes for families who otherwise have nothing. The work not only provides for those families served, it also enables participants to build important and lasting relationships that help them heal.
The experience is life-changing, according to Richard Davis, a former combat engineer for the U.S. Army.
“I feel like I lost a lot of my humanity when I was deployed, and I didn’t think I’d ever get that back,” he said. “And I think that’s the biggest change that happened down there, being a missionary. It gave me that back, something I never thought I’d find again.”
Working on the Baja Peninsula is meaningful in itself, according to Quinonez. That’s because most of the participants were deployed to third-world countries, in which they made negative and traumatic memories. Operation Restore Hope allows them to make new, positive memories in a similar setting.
“It rewires their brain,” he said. “It teaches them that they still can make a difference in the world.”
For more information on Operation Restore Hope, or to get involved, visit Q Missions online.