BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — 22 veterans take their own lives every day.
That’s according to veteran organization Mission 22.
The Central Illinois Veteran-Warriors is made up of veterans from all branches.
Playing the game they love as a unit to help each other through any pain or baggage they carry from when they served.
“It means the world. I’m a guy who has been diagnosed with PTSD and hockey helps me get through it. It’s changed my perspective on life,” said Eric Allen, who served in the 1st Batallion 37th Armor for the United States Army.
Allen is a Correctional Officer now. He says the high speed and impact of the game of hockey is great for him and his teammates.
“The comradery with the guys out here, a lot of us have been through the same stuff. It’s a wonderful thing to be a part of. Being in the military, just having that bond, a lot of us have been through a lot of stuff. Some combat, some non-combat. Having each other to lean on,” Allen said.
Todd Smith served as a Radar Repairman in the U.S. Army. He is also the Vice President of Business Operations for the Central Illinois Veteran-Warriors. His team hosted the Chicago Blackhawks at Grossinger Motors Arena earlier this month. Smith said the two teams have built a strong bond over the last few years.
“We’ve met some of these guys, we know them by name. We’re getting some comradery built not only in our organization but across cities as well,” Smith said.
Smith says hockey is a great way to take a break from everyday life.
“This is my release, this is a time I can be with the guys and let any kind of issues from the day or week. Let loose a little bit, have fun, and move with the fast pace of hockey,” Smith said.
The Central Illinois Veteran-Warriors shutout the Chicago Blackhawk Veteran-Warriors 9-0 much thanks to goaltender Patrick Schmid. Schmid served as a Senior Airman Mechanic in the U.S. Air Force and is the Treasurer for the Central Illinois Veteran-Warriors.
“It’s just a relief to get out of the day-to-day kind of grind a little bit. If you look around, just like me, I’ve got a smile going on with these guys on the bench. Laughing, it brings us all together and gives us time to chat and have fun,” Schmid said
“It’s such a relief to come out here and play with these guys and have some fun. No matter if we’re winning, losing, or it’s just in practice, it’s just fun. We laugh it up in the locker room, we joke around,” Schmid said.
The team raised money for the Rodgers family in a hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawk Veteran-Warriors. Kevin Rodgers lost his son Josh back in 2017. Sgt. Josh Rodgers died in action in Afghanistan.
“The veteran community, in general, has been unbelievable for us. Just the way they’ve held us close, and helped us through this time,” Rodgers said.
The Post Office in Uptown Normal is named after Sgt. Rodgers.
Commanding Officer and Captain of the Central Illinois Veteran-Warriors, Corey Allen, says his brothers mean the world to him.
“Having that ability to come out and just be around a group of guys that share similar experiences and understand what we go through on a daily basis, it really creates a sense of drive and self-worth coming out here. Just like in the military, you count on the person sitting on each side of you on the bench. Being out there at practice making sure, hey, is your battle buddy good to go?” Allen said.
But the way to help him and his team? Allen says it’s all about time.
“I’ve long said if it was money, the VA would have already figured this thing out. But it takes people’s time. It takes people coming out, getting involved with our organization, and showing up to events like this,” Allen said.
The team went up to Blaine, Minnesota for a tournament last weekend. They won first place, going 4-0, and bringing home the Hendrickson Foundation Trophy.
If you’d like to get involved with the Central Illinois Veteran-Warriors, whether it be playing, volunteering, or just coming to games, you can find them on Facebook here.
“We want people to know we’re out here. If you know a veteran, tell them to get ahold of us. Find us on Facebook, we’re working on our website right now. We are a source of resources for people who need something,” Allen said.
Just this winter, the Veteran-Warriors went to the Peoria Civic Center and worked at the concession stands during a Peoria Rivermen game when the Stanley Cup came to Peoria.