Perry Yee, a former Navy Seal, now living a civilian life, was feeling like his life lacked the same sense of purpose it did when was proudly serving in the United States Military.
We hear the stories all the time of Veterans serving their country in the Armed Services, only to return home to a life that doesn’t seem to have the same sense of meaning. In active duty, among your peers, there’s a feeling of respect, trust and comradery. As a civilian it can be difficult to find that same sense of belonging and purpose. Adding to the difficulty of this transition, there’s no longer the same structure and strict regimen as there was in enlisted life, potentially causing both physical and mental health strain.
The consequences of such drastic life changes can be devastating. Depression among Veterans is statistically through the roof, as is the suicide rate. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly 18 U.S. Veterans commit suicide every day.
Yee had been among the military’s elite, a Navy SEAL from 2006 until retiring in 2011. He felt fortunate that he was able to transition home without it affecting his mental and physical health as much as many people he knew, yet he still found himself bouncing from one job to another and finding little professional fulfillment.
“I didn’t really have any purpose in life,” says Yee, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). “I didn’t have that higher mission anymore now that I wasn’t on active duty. And just seeing the recurring trend of all the Veterans, I felt like I needed to do something. I’ve lost friends, both to combat and to suicide. There are a lot of things that go into Veteran suicide, but I think one of the biggest factors is that they just have no mission. A lot of guys committing suicide have families and successful careers outside of the military, so it’s not like they’ve completely lost themselves. But they’ve lost that sense of service.”
Yee turned his attention toward making sure other Veterans didn’t experience that same fate. And for those who had, he wanted to help the families they’d left behind. Out of that mission, Yee created Active Valor, a San Diego-based non-profit organization that provides mentors to the children of our nation’s fallen heroes.
“I wanted to find a way to give back to our Veterans and give them a purpose again,” says Yee. “To figure out what we can do to help show them that their community still values and honors their service and sacrifice to the country, but also to show them that their services are still needed and that they’re still just as valuable on the outside. So, we decided to work with the Gold Star Family community.”
The Ultimate Service for the Ultimate Sacrifice
The “Gold Star Family” distinction is as honorable as it is heartbreaking. It signifies the immediate family members of someone who’s died in the line of duty of military service. Gold Star Children, specifically, are Active Valor’s primary focus.
As of this writing (March 2021), 43 children ages 5 and up who lost their fathers in combat are paired with Veteran mentors through the Active Valor program. Each child has a mentor who’s a constant presence in his or her life. Throughout the year, Active Valor holds “family reunion” style events to get the children and mentors together. (Video from events, including a huge Halloween bash, can be found on ActiveValor.com.)
“We wanted to create a program where we took our transitioning Veterans who have years of knowledge and experience and pair them up with kids as a central force in their lives,” says Yee. “There’s really no other program that offers this kind of ongoing mentorship. We keep the Veteran and the kid as a pair until they’re no longer with the program. These guys aren’t here to fill dad’s shoes or be a parent. They’re more like a big brother, someone a kid can call and turn to with school issues or whatever it may be.”
Active Valor is creating a powerful ripple effect. Not only are the kids gaining a key figure in their lives, but Veterans are finding new purpose, new service.
“They’re serving their fellow countrymen,” says Yee. “I don’t believe any of our Veterans knew any of the fallen dads, but it doesn’t matter. There’s still that brotherhood, and if the roles were reversed, they’d want the same thing for their kids. So, it gives the opportunity to help them with their own struggles, but also to utilize their skillsets again and to pass them down to kids that really need it.”
The Active Valor-Undersun Fitness Partnership
A couple years ago, Undersun founder James Grage started seeing some familiar images popping up on social media. Active-duty military men and women were using Undersun resistance bands as a portable and effective training tool for staying fit and strong when deployed.
He was happy to see it, but he couldn’t help but think that the signature bright neon-orange color of the original Undersun bands could potentially attract unwanted attention when deployed. Let’s face it, orange is a color you use when you want to be seen. In military life, you want the opposite, which is the whole purpose of camouflage.
This idea spawned the creation of Undersun’s new green and black U.S. Elite Bands, which are available to military and civilians alike. The abbreviation for Undersun is “US,” representing our tribe or community, but in this case the name also honors the proud men and women that have served in the U.S. Military.
The introduction of these bands was also an opportunity to give back to military members who sacrifice and defend our country. It was extremely important to James and the Undersun Team to find the right non-profit organization to support.
“I wanted to do a military give-back,” says James, “but I wanted to make sure that whoever we got involved with was doing something special and it was something where we could really make a difference. There are a lot of really big organizations out there, like Wounded Warriors, who already have a lot of attention and funding, but there are also a lot of smaller nonprofits that are doing really great things but could use the additional support”
Through Undersun coach and former Marine Aaron Williamson, James was introduced to Perry Yee and Active Valor. Right away he was really impressed with the cause, and Undersun Fitness soon started supporting Active Valor events by way of product giveaways and sponsorships.
“I always liked what Perry was doing, because I think it’s something that we can all relate to, whether you were in the military or not,” says James. “Everyone can relate to kids and family. The fact that they support families that have lost someone in active duty really resonated with me. I believe in what they’re doing – they just need the resources to be able to do it on a bigger scale. Plus, on a personal level Perry is very focused on fitness, and the mental and physical benefits of creating a structured active lifestyle, so the whole thing just made sense.”
Support Active Valor through Undersun Elite Bands
The U.S. Elite Bands are one step toward that “bigger scale.” A portion of the proceeds from every set of U.S. Elite Bands will go directly to Active Valor to help the organization better serve its Gold Star Families and Veterans and expand its community.
“Each year, we continue to grow,” says Yee. “When we had our first big event in 2017, we had 11 Veteran and Gold Star Children pairs. About a year and a half later, we’d basically quadrupled that number, which is great. But of course, as we grow, that means it’s harder to find places to facilitate these events. It means more food, more gear for the attendance, more supplies. It also makes it harder to maintain the quality, which is really important to us.”
Yee and Grage are also planning to develop a military-inspired TA2 training program based on actual workouts elite-level soldiers do outdoors when deployed, using only Undersun Resistance Bands and anchors. As with the Elite Bands, a portion of proceeds from the program will go to Active Valor.
The bands and program would help not only active duty military, giving them a workout plan to follow, but also civilian Undersun Tribe members.
“If you’re active duty and you’re out there in a war zone, being fit is critical for increasing your survivability,” says James. “To have this super effective training tool that’s so portable that it doesn’t weigh you down or take up valuable space is appealing to those in the military. Even for us civilians wanting to get in better shape, it’s inspiring to see how the Special Forces work out. It’s pretty badass knowing you can train the same way as some of the military’s elite”.
Support Active Valor by visiting ActiveValor.com and making either a one-time donation or setting up a recurring monthly contribution. You can also support Active Valor by purchasing a 5-band set of Undersun Elite Bands.