As an 8 year veteran of the Army who served in Afghanistan in 2012-13, Sergeant Gunnar Edwards understands the struggles that some veterans may go through. Upon returning from Afghanistan he turned to drinking heavily as a coping mechanism. His use of alcohol and failure to deal with his emotions put a strain on relationships and employment. There are 22 veterans a day that take their lives, on more than one occasion Gunnar has almost been an addition to that statistic. One thing that has always been consistent and therapeutic, was his passion for working out. In 2018 he graduated the Fitness Training Program at Parkland College and became a certified personal trainer. Gunnar wanted to provide an atmosphere for other veterans and first responders to have an outlet to go to for their PTSD and overall, well-being, thus Rally Point Fitness was born. Some veterans have a problem adjusting back to civilian life and the idea is to provide an atmosphere where veterans can have that sense of camaraderie again. Physical fitness has been shown to improve symptoms of PTSD, depression, sleep patterns and more. Rally Point also holds regular meetings for veterans who may suffer from PTSD allowing veterans and first responders to have a place they feel comfortable with, here in Douglas County.
After opening Rally Point Fitness on September 1st of 2020, Gunnar drew the attention of many local Veterans who were looking to establish connections with other Veterans to help combat the loss of camaraderie they were missing once leaving the military. Gunnar quickly established close bonds with several of these individuals during their weekly Veteran meetings. In the early summer of 2021, Gunnar and his friend Cory Wagle began discussing taking this idea of providing a place of support and camaraderie to Veterans on a much larger scale than Douglas County. After months of discussion and planning, 217 VETS was officially established on April 27, 2022. The mission behind 217 VETS is re-instilling Veteran camaraderie in the pursuit of suicide awareness and prevention.
Benjamin Edwards is currently serving with the Illinois Army National Guard where he has served 12+ years as an engineer.
As someone who has experienced PTSD in his personal life and who has seen first-hand how PTSD and other mental health and addiction concerns have affected people closest to him; Ben wanted to be a part of 217 Vets mission of helping members of the armed forces past and present. After participating in the Chicago veteran's ruck march to raise awareness for veteran suicide, Ben has desired to get more involved in such a meaningful cause. Ben is eager to make new and strengthen existing connections in the Tuscola and surrounding areas and bring awareness to this great cause.
In the nearly two years of weekly veteran gatherings, Ben has seen firsthand how getting veterans and currently serving service members together can change lives. In this short span we have gained lifelong friends and our own small family that we spend several days of the week with outside of the regular gatherings. The relationships that have been built have led to vacations, day trips and even helping each other with projects at home.
Ben is excited for the opportunity to continue to grow this organization and be there for veterans and currently serving military members that struggle to feel like they belong.