Story and Photo Contributed By Tramel Garrett
CAVHCS Public Affairs
A profound crisis looms large across the nation: the heartbreaking reality of veteran suicides. Every state, including Alabama, has rallied behind initiatives like the Governor’s Challenge and Mayor’s Challenge, fostering collaborations between federal and state agencies, aiming to combat this tragic epidemic. In the heart of Alabama, a visual testament to this crisis stands tall, bearing the weight of lost lives and the hope for a brighter future.
Rear Admiral W. Kent Davis, U.S. Navy (Retired), state commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, eloquently expressed the essence of this endeavor, “We wanted a visual reminder, a pretty stark visual reminder of how veteran suicide affects individual lives.”
Thus, Operation We Remember was born — a powerful initiative that seeks to honor and remember the veterans in Alabama who tragically succumbed to suicide.
The visual impact of Operation We Remember is striking; a field of flags, each representing a veteran who lost their battle with suicide in the year 2021, the latest year for which statistics are available. It is a somber reminder of individual lives, each one a story, a legacy cut short by the devastating effects of suicide. As American Flags flutter in the wind, they serve as poignant symbols of the deep-seated crisis that has touched countless families and communities across Alabama.
The significance of Operation We Remember goes beyond its visual impact. It serves as a stark reminder that the issue of suicide knows no boundaries — it affects the young and old; the rich and poor; and veterans from all military branches. The campaign stands as a collective acknowledgment of the struggles faced by veterans, highlighting the urgent need for support, understanding and resources.
Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System (CAVHCS) has become a torchbearer for this cause, creating a moving display on the Tuskegee VA Campus. This display not only honors the lives lost but also serves as a constant reminder to the community about the gravity of the issue at hand. The field of flags, standing proudly amidst the Alabama landscape, signifies both the loss suffered and the resilience of a community determined to raise awareness and effect change.
Operation We Remember is not just about paying tribute; it is a call to action. The goal is clear — to raise awareness about veteran suicides, break the stigma surrounding mental health issues within the veteran community and create a robust support network.
“Ultimately, we’re hoping to raise awareness of the issue to get more support and link up the assets that can help veterans overcome the crisis,” Davis said. “So, we don’t have to put out more flags next year.”
This tribute gained added poignancy as it unfolded during September, recognized National Suicide Prevention Month. It is a powerful reminder that while Operation We Remember is a testament to those lost, it is also a beacon of hope and a commitment to preventing further tragedies.
“Operation We Remember is not just a display; it’s a pledge,” said CAVHCS Director Amir Farooqi. “A pledge to our veterans that we will remember, honor and support them, not just in words but actions.”