Laurel military veteran connects with community, helps others battling PTSD

By 
Jaci Webb Of The Laurel Outlook
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
Reno Olvera served two tours in Iraq as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was also stationed in Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. Courtesy photos

Reno Olvera served two tours in Iraq as a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was also stationed in Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. Courtesy photos

Reno Olvera and his wife Angela and son Odysseus love connecting with the Laurel community since moving here in December 2020.

Reno Olvera and his wife Angela and son Odysseus love connecting with the Laurel community since moving here in December 2020.

The numbers tell one story.

Since 2001, more than 114,000 U.S. military veterans have died by suicide, according to the non-profit organization Stop Soldier Suicide. Veterans are at a 50 percent higher risk of suicide than their peers who have not served, and vets are more likely to be homeless, with 9 percent of all homeless adults being veterans.

That’s one side of the story. But the other side is veterans like Reno Olvera, who is working hard to instill pride and hope in his fellow veterans. Olvera and his wife Angela and their 18-month-old son Odysseus moved to Laurel last year and got right to work, establishing their home-based screen-printing business, Infinite Ink Apparel. Olvera also connected with the veteran’s organizations in Laurel, specifically the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the FOE (Fraternal Order of Eagles).

The transition back into civilian life was not an easy one for Olvera, and it is not easy for other veterans who may feel isolated and haunted by what they have witnessed. Olvera said at one point after he returned to the states in 2011 after completing two tours in Iraq in the U.S. Marine Corps, he and his best buddy, Paul Miller, were close to being homeless.

“Nothing can prepare you for war,” Olvera said. “But nothing prepares you for the transition back to civilian life.”

Olvera said he and Miller, who he met when they were both serving in Okinawa, Japan, were fighting demons and close to being destitute while living in Colorado. Both of them served as sergeants in the Marine Corps, a position where they had to be strong leaders for others. Olvera and Miller formed a pact that help them rise up.

“We made a promise to each other to donate 300 hours to vets every year,” Olvera said. “Finding that purpose helps build yourself back up.”

Since arriving in Laurel in December 2020 with Miller still at his side, Olvera has worked to help renovate the VFW, installing new flooring and making other improvements to the building. In the spring, he plans to host the Backyard Games Festival on his 20-acre property to raise more money for veterans.

“We are considering it a spring veteran festival to bring together veterans, their family and friends, as well as the community, to help raise awareness for PTSD, homelessness and the 22 A Day.”

The suicide awareness movement, 22 A Day, refers to the number of veterans who commit suicide every day in the U.S. The national non-profit organization supports veterans, and their mission holds a “heavy spot in my heart,” Olvera said.

His dream is that through the fundraising efforts by Olvera and other Laurel veteran groups, a veteran’s center could be built in Laurel.

The Festival will have competitions with prizes awarded in sports like corn hole, horseshoes and darts. He also anticipates having vendors and food.

“It’s something to bring people in to network, have fun, and help veterans and the community.”

Olvera said is he is trying to gauge interest among Laurel residents, and so far people are intrigued.

Olvera was 17 when he enlisted in the Marines, too young to sign up on his own so he had to convince his mother to sign for him.

“It took me a week to convince her,” he said.

When he started basic training in 2006, he was 18 and he felt good about following in the shoes of many family members who served in other branches of the military. His father was just getting out of Iraq when Olvera was being deployed there. His grandfather and great grandfather and now his youngest brother have all served in the military.

As a division Marine, Olvera said he had opportunities to serve in many different countries, including Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand. He was a combat photographer and videographer, and also taught martial arts. Some of the images he took and the film footage he recorded still haunt him today.

“I feel a lot of vets come home and feel like they have to fight everything alone. We’ve seen things that most people don’t see in their lifetime. If there’s anything I want vets to know, it’s to be there for each other. They don’t have to go through this alone.”

Many vets try to hide from society on their return home because they feel that they don’t belong, Olvera said. The best thing we can all do is to check on our neighbors and make sure the people in our community are OK. Maybe invite someone over for Thanksgiving dinner and ask them how they are doing, Olvera suggested.

“Veterans went into the military to be there for their country, and they still want to be there for their country when they come home,” Olvera said. “It’s beautiful to be part of a community like Laurel.”

Veterans organizations don’t always attract the younger vets. At age 34, Olvera is among the youngest vets. He said it’s so important to keep places like the FOE, the VFW and the American Legion going so veterans can have that support they so desperately need.

“If there’s a message we need to send to our vets, it’s for them to get out there and be a part of the community. Your community needs you as much as vets need the community.”

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