Organizing veterans to connect the disconnected at the Saturday event

Paul Davis has been on active duty in the Marine Corps for nearly a decade, with deployments to Afghanistan and Jordan supporting America’s wars in the Middle East.

When he left the military at the end of 2018, he got a good job at Boston Scientific, but he felt the same feeling that many veterans feel when they leave the military: of disconnection and no longer know how things were going.

“You had that sense of purpose, that drive and that fulfillment that was always there,” said Davis, 34, of St. Michael. “I got out there and found a great job at a great company, but that feeling of fulfillment and camaraderie and togetherness just wasn’t the same.”

So he started volunteering for a veteran-focused Minnesota-based nonprofit called Project Got Your Back. He quickly rose through the ranks to become the organization’s president and then its chief executive. Its mission is simple, Davis said: “We want to connect these unconnected veterans so they know they’re not alone.”

The organization is hosting its biggest event of the year on Saturday, almost exactly 21 years after terrorists commandeered planes and sparked two wars that sent millions of American service members into combat.

The goal of R&R on the Lawn at the Magnus Veterans Foundation Wellness Campus in Dayton is simple: to connect these disconnected veterans to each other and to the resources that can help them. The event will feature music, food trucks, drink tents and stalls from veteran-focused organizations such as the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project and Wings for Widows, which helps veterans widows of veterans to plan their finances. Former Army Ranger Kris Paronto will speak at 6 p.m.

The Got Your Back Project operates on the premise that there are so many veterans organizations and so many veterans out there who need help, but no one to connect the dots.

He trained 35 veteran navigators to help struggling veterans with day-to-day tasks: resumes and job interviews, presentations to hiring managers, helping with health and housing bureaucracy. Relationships often become like mentorships.

A recent success story: A local war veteran was deeply addicted to drugs. He had no home, car, or job, and needed intense, one-on-one help. Project Got Your Back helped him find an apartment. This put him in touch with another non-profit organization that donates vehicles to veterans. And it hooked him up with educational benefits and landed him an apprenticeship at an IT company.

“He’s completely changed,” Davis said.

Participants in a 10-mile walk to raise awareness about veteran suicide — the almost naked walk — will end at Saturday’s event from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“Almost naked” is what many veterans with different psychological and mental issues often feel coming out of the service,” Davis said. “They describe themselves as feeling naked, that there is no more nothing around them when they come out of the army.”

Aubrey L. Morgan