Veterans matter in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
On the first Saturday of each month, The Broadway Barber Shop in downtown Sand Springs hosts veterans and active duty members of the United States armed forces, as well as police, fire, and paramedics whose unique experiences have left them in need of camaraderie or guidance.
Wayne Pait and Warren Hood started the Vets That Matter organization four months ago at Church That Matters in Prattville. Hood is an active duty reserves Sergeant Major and Pait is a retired Navy veteran, eleven years removed from service.
"I've had this on my heart for a few years and didn't know how to kick it off," says Pait. "When I first got out I was really bitter about being a civilian, about my career. I didn't want to be involved in anything to do with the military. The longer I've been out, the more nostalgic I've been."
"It's been a struggle watching the news, seeing some of the guys coming back, and some of the problems their families are dealing with." Pait says the military spends years teaching them to be soldiers, but doesn't spend nearly enough time teaching them how to be civilians again.
Pait met Hood in October of 2017 and the two hit it off instantly due to their military connection. Church That Matters provided a launching point for their meetings, but the church location created a barrier for some vets who didn't feel comfortable meeting in a religious setting.
Mitch, the mononymous barber, has offered to let the vets use his facility at 29 East Broadway Street for as long as they need it. Eventually they hope to have their own facility in the downtown area where individuals can come by any time for help or fellowship.
"What we do is supply active duty reservists, veterans, and first responders an opportunity to come in, talk with us if they want about what they're dealing with," says Pait. "I don't even care if you got kicked out of the military, there's still things we can do to help you."
"On the outside we don't really like talking about it with our spouses so we kind of hold things in a lot. Some don't want to talk about it to their supervisors either because some of them believe it could affect their ability to get a promotion."
"This is just a platform for them to come in and kind of hang out, meet some guys that are in their field, that have done what they've done, seen what they've seen. We have a connection."
Pait says they have a police officer from their church involved with helping first responders. They are also working with the Disabled American Veterans location in Sapulpa and the American Legion post in Sand Springs.
Since their meetings began, they have had the opportunity to provide guidance to individuals struggling with drugs, alcohol, and transitioning back into the civilian world.
While Vets That Matter is focused on Sand Springs, they welcome anyone from the surrounding communities. They also hope to meet with local homeless veterans.
Pait says reservists in particular are encouraged to come get involved.
"Reservists have it the hardest because they do military part time and they're civilians part time. The problem is they deploy for a year at a time and go over to Afghanistan. They fight in the wars over there and when they come back they're expected to transition back into civilian world right away."
"Us full time military guys didn't have to worry about that. We go do what we do, we come back and we're still doing military things every day. So the reservists are having a harder time transitioning. They have more problems with alcohol and domestic violence, and that's where police officers and first responders get involved. They have to deal with us in town."
The meetings last from 9:00 a.m. to noon and donuts and coffee are provided. The meeting opens and closes with prayer, but the rest of the session is informal.
"I'm new in my faith," says Pait. "But without God, I would not have been able to do what I do now."
"We're not trying to thump them in the head with a Bible, but just make them understand that we had the same problems until we decided to make a change. Most of us decided to make that change by getting involved with Christ and following Him. It's made it better for a lot of us."
"But mostly what we're trying to do is have a place for them to come in and hang out. With military people, we can know each other five minutes and it's like we've known each other all our lives. A lot of guys are just missing the camaraderie of talking with people that know what we do."
Additionally, Pait wants to help bring attention to the 20.6 veterans on average who kill themselves every day in the United States. "Our job is to try and stop that. We've already stopped one in our group. It's a beginning."
Vets That Matter have a new t-shirt available at the Broadway Barbershop. Additionally, they plan to host a car show in September and will be having a free food for homeless vets outreach.