JOLIET, Ill. - As Memorial Day nears, it is time to thank our servicemen and women and recognize the sacrifices they make.
Sometimes those sacrifices can leave a lasting effect on their mental health, but a program in Joliet partners police officers with a military background with veterans calling 911 for help.
"I just felt like I was part of something big and then I wasn’t part of anything," said Army Veteran "Ponce."
Ponce has been back home in Joliet for a decade after completing two deployments to Iraq, but it has taken nearly as long to understand that he needed some help.
"It wasn’t until last year until I realized that I had struggled with social anxiety and pressures that I thought was normal and you roll through it, and fight through it and that’s just part of life," he said.
Ponce didn’t seek help until a few buddies within the Joliet Police department encouraged him that it was okay to reach out. They were part of the Battle Buddy program.
"The Battle Buddy program derives from a name in the Army that is used to pair soldiers together to help each other out during training when they are in battle," said Lieutenant Moises Avila with the Joliet Police Department, who is part of the Battle Buddy program.
911 dispatchers in Joliet ask the caller seeking assistance if they are a veteran and if so, the dispatcher puts out a call for a trained officer.
Avila says all 26 officers who have volunteered to be Battle Buddies, have "critical incident" training, but maybe more importantly a military background, making them able to make a connection with the veteran in crisis.
The program started in 2016 and early on they didn’t keep records, but over the past few years they have responded to about 30 calls where Battle Buddy officers were called out.
The officers listen to the veteran and encourage them to use resources like the local VA hospital.
"I went to the front desk and I didn’t know what to say and I was just kind of tearing up, and I said I needed help and they just took me in," said Ponce, describing his first trip to the VA.
Ponce and Avila both agree that admitting you need help and reaching out is not a weakness, but pure power.
"Asking for help is showing that you are strong, stronger than you think," said Ponce.
As far as Joliet police know, they have the only Battle Buddy program in the country.
For questions, please contact JPDBattleBuddy@jolietcity.org.