John Scarffe, Gilpin County. Twenty-two U.S. veterans commit suicide every day. U.S. Navy Veteran Chris Reder of Rollinsville is working to cut down that number.
Reder has established the DTOM 22/0 Veterans Ranch Foundation specifically for veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and homelessness. The foundation’s goal is to raise funds to build a veterans’ ranch in Gilpin County.
The ranch will consist of housing for 30 veterans for up to two years, meals, educational classes, re-acclimation into society classes, therapy animals, container farming and volunteer opportunities. “I believe by giving our veterans a place to live, work and volunteer while being surrounded by their fellow veterans, it will give them back the purpose and mission they need,” Reder wrote on the Foundation website.
“This will allow them to re-acclimate into society at their pace, surrounded by the camaraderie we need. The volunteer opportunities will come from local volunteer firefighting, to county level volunteerism and in larger scale with Team Rubicon.
Reder was born in South Dakota and enlisted in the U.S. Navy when he was 17 years old. He became a cryptologic technician and part of the military intelligence. His operations were top secret, and even on ships he worked in a secluded environment. “It was the best job I can imagine, but it has the second highest dropout rate,” Reder said.
He served for five years until President Bill Clinton started a military draw down. He got out of the Navy and went back to South Dakota until he received a call from Washington, D.C., asking if he would come back.
First, he was offered a tour of duty in Spain, but after he re-enlisted, the military’s needs had changed and he was sent to school in San Diego for more training. While there, he was involved in an off-duty accident and lost his career.
He received a medical discharge after nearly seven years in the Navy.
Reder spent a long time struggling, going from being with his closest friends to being alone, and the Veterans’ Administration did not help him. “I missed the camaraderie of my closest shipmates,” Reder said.
He moved around a lot and got along day by day. He understood why veterans commit suicide. Then he got involved with the Nine Line Foundation, which raises funds for wounded veterans. He participated in a 75-mile hike on the Colorado Trail, beginning in Denver and finishing in Breckenridge.
The hike raised $2,000, and the Foundation is now finishing a handicap accessible house for a veteran in Southeast Colorado. Reder enjoyed being around veterans again and spending all day hiking.
Reder also participated in a 22-kill hike in Dallas, Texas, in which 1,000 people held hands and walked through downtown. It felt good to be doing something positive, so he went back to South Dakota and participated in a K-9 for Warriors benefit, which raised $1,750. The organization takes dogs from shelters and trains them to be service dogs.
Reeder also became involved in Team Rubicon, composed of 70 percent veterans and 30 percent civilians. The team responds to disasters such as cleaning up debris from fires and also does community service.
The team got a grant from Boulder County to build a one-room house for an 81-year-old veteran in Bellvue, Colorado. Team members also put flags on all headstones at Ft. Logan National Cemetery for Memorial Day.
In Nederland, on July 29 to 30, Team Rubicon will be cutting and chipping for two homeowners who lost trees in the Cold Springs fire last summer, and on September 8 to 10, they will help homeowners who lost their home, all of their possessions and 26 acres of trees in the Cold Springs Fire. The homeowner’s son-in-law is an active duty Marine Sergeant stationed in North Carolina.
Although Reder took part in these fundraisers to make a difference and helped two veterans get a new house, he wondered how much difference does that make when we lose 22 veterans a day. He wanted to try to do something big to help enough people, so he started brainstorming and came up with the idea of the ranch in Gilpin County.
At the ranch, struggling vets would be able to live with others and have the camaraderie they miss, while re-acclimating into society. They wouldn’t just be dumped on the streets. They would have structure.
The house would have two-person rooms for both males and females and would be handicapped accessible. It will be in a secluded area, and Reder can provide the transportation.
The ranch could have therapy animals such as horses. The veterans could grow food in shipping containers and volunteer for firefighting and other activities, which would give them a purpose and mission. “Anywhere they don’t have manpower, we will send over anyone you need – 30 vets with skills will do anything,” Reder said.
He would like to construct a Walk with Heroes, composed of laser-engraved bricks with the names of loved ones who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Purple Heart or were one of the 22. “The H1 goal is to end the 22 a day,” Reder said.
People would do anything to be in a secluded area with vet comrades. Reder heard of one man who wanted to move into an abandoned mine shaft just to get away from the problems in the city and the way he has been treated.
Reder’s friends have called the suicide line asking for help and have been told, “Just kill yourself,” or “What do you want us to do about it?” The VA can’t get out of its own way, Reder said. “Vets have to help vets.”
Reder has looked at 40-acre properties in the area, and prices range from $180,000 to $300,000. He tried to use his VA loan for financing, but the financial institutions said they wouldn’t allow it, and he would have to build a structure that matches the other buildings in the area.
Reder works six days a week with one day off driving a truck for Ryder Integrated to South Dakota and back three times a week for a total of 3,000 miles weekly. It gives him time to reflect and think, and he does computer work during his breaks and days off.
Gilpin County Veterans’ Service Officer Richard Winfrey has been behind Reder’s project from the beginning, and on May 9, Reder attended the Gilpin County Commission meeting to discuss the project with the commissioners.
Commissioner Linda Isenhart said the project sounds really good. The County has donated in the past, and that could be something the Commissioners could talk about.
“Maybe the County will have something,” Reder said. “It would be an immeasurable start.”
To donate or to find out more information about the foundation, visit www.DTOM220.org.
(Originally published in the June 8, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)