The Oath to Country Foundation is on a mission to help support veteran's mental health initiatives as well as fight against homelessness in the veteran population.
Justin's passion for helping veterans is evident in this episode. He's doing great things, and I hope he continues to encourage others to fight for veterans.
Links & Resources
- Oath To Country Foundation
- Oath To Country Foundation on Instagram
- Oath To Country Foundation on Facebook
- Episode referenced: Episode 87 with Cliff Payne
- Rucking 2 Remember
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there, click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit Drive On Podcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email lists. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show. Hi everybody today my guest is Justin Gracioux. Justin started The Oath to Country Foundation as a way to support Veterans with their needs after returning home from overseas. Justin, it's great to have you on the show. Welcome to the show. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Justin Gracioux: 00:01:05 Scott, thank you for having me. It is truly an honor and privilege to be on Drive On Podcast. I do first want to get started by saying thank you. I want to give things to praise first and foremost to God for giving me this opportunity to speak before your community, our country and the world. I do want to also thank my grandfather who honorably served in the United States Army and third, I'd like to thank Cliff from Decisive AME for connecting me with you. This is truly something special and I already know walking away from this experience with you, Scott, my heart's already racing. I can tell that I'm going to walk away from this experience, it'll just be truly unforgettable. So, I'm very excited to be here. I'm going to pour my heart and soul into this conversation with you. I might even tear up, I apologize ahead of time because this is very heavy, it's honorable, there's so much to share with you and let's just get started. I want to get started.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02:10 Yeah, let's do it. So, you mentioned Cliff. It was Episode 87 that we had Cliff on and Cliff introduced you to me shortly after we had completed his interview. And he told me a little bit about your background and your story and said, you need to talk to this guy and get him on the show because he's doing a lot of great things for Veterans. And so, I found out a little bit about you and what you're up to. Once I read up a little bit about you, I knew that this is something I want to make happen. So, let's talk a little bit about your background and how you got into what you're doing now.
Justin Gracioux: 00:03:03 So before we get started, I know it's an eye on this podcast, but I do have a very special guest that I want to include in this conversation. And here he is.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:03:15 Oh, cool. Is that your grandfather, you mentioned?
Justin Gracioux: 00:03:19 Yes, it is my grandfather. I'll say this for you. The OT Country Foundation is a 501c3 dedicated towards working towards any of the war on Veteran and first responders, suicide and meeting the specialized needs of homeless Veterans and their pets in Los Angeles and surrounding communities. Our mission is to foster a community of connectivity and collaboration with partnerships and volunteers to educate and advocate for and strengthen Veterans and first responders mental health, and to provide the resources for the ones that end up homeless or low income here in Southern California. That's our mission and our objective. I do want to give you a little bit of backstory on how this all started. The nonprofit legally started March 9th, 2020, but in my heart, the nonprofit started in 1983, the year my grandfather passed away. I founded the nonprofit to honor my grandfather's legacy of serving in the United States Army.
Justin Gracioux: 00:04:30 My mom was 17 years old when she lost her father. And at the time of death records of his service were burned and scorched and erased from history. In 1973 St. Louis, national personnel archive and the archive center there in Missouri and something I'm about in the ballpark, I think 16, 18 million Veteran records were lost in this fiery event. So, fast forward 10 years in 1983, shortly after his passing, days after his passing, my mom and the sisters there were four sisters, by the way. So, you can imagine they're pretty young. My mom was 17 at the time, and they went to go inquire about his benefits and to see if they can have him rightfully buried and honored as a Veteran in the United States Army and come to find out there was no record of Corporal Joe Benny Montoya in the system.
Justin Gracioux: 00:05:37 You can imagine at that time, things were all archived, paper, handwritten. You know, we don't have shared drives like we do now in an iCloud system where information is accurately stored and can easily be attained, if ever requested. At that time, time was ticking. They had to bury him. So, they buried him in a private cemetery with no recognition. Through the years, I've made it my life mission, even before I started the nonprofit. I wanted to get to know more about this man that I call grandfather. And I wanted to understand what happened and what took place. And I wanted to know the emotions involved. I started asking these questions to my mom and the sisters and relatives across the country. Who was he?
Justin Gracioux: 00:06:33 What did he do? And how can I share that story? How can I save that story and how can I share it with the world? So come to find out, my grandfather forged his birth certificate at the age of 16 to enlist in World War II in 1945. And the thought that a 16-year-old boy could come to that conclusion and commit his life in service to our country. I'll never understand that, nobody knows why he did what he did, but I found out there were things going on in his life at that time. And that serving our country and enlisting in the United States Army was his calling. I felt very compelled to get to know more about him and come to find out there are so many other brave men whose stories were raised too. And I can't imagine what the families that are out there that are still fighting today to get the recognition for their loved one.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:08:02 And that's not an uncommon story either, boys…there are stories of people in the civil war, who were just kids at the time, WWI, WWII. And it was a lot easier to forge those records back then than it is now, nothing was digitized and you don't have databases of information that you can rely on. You just look at the piece of paper in front of you. And if it says that the person's 18; well, then we're just going to assume that that person's 18 and we're going to go with that. There are definitely stories going back years and years and years talking about how people would fake their age to sign up to fight in the war.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:08:52 And the reasons vary, for some of them, they think that they're old enough, like we all did at 16; we thought we were invincible and we could do anything. And we wanted to prove that we're a man or whatever it was. There are so many different reasons and I wouldn't claim to know what any of them are for any one individual. But you know, there are tons of those stories out there, that are similar to that. And it's mind boggling to me that kids would just volunteer to go to war, to do some of the atrocious things that even grown men have trouble wrapping their head around. And these kids go out and they're doing some of the same stuff. It's amazing that people like your grandfather was willing to do that. It's also a shame that some of these records that were not digitized, service records and stuff, that there really only was one copy and they were stored in one building. And when that building goes up in flames, they're gone.
Justin Gracioux: 00:10:01 Yeah, it's very unfortunate, but what we have there was information that I found throughout the years especially months leading to the effective date of the nonprofit OT Country Foundation. My mom called me, November to October, 2019. And she said, Jr, I have a folder I'd like to give you. And inside that folder were several photos, service photos of my grandfather, the very few that we have. And along with that was a driver's license and several other personal documents, but there was also very little information about his, service. What I did with that information was, so if we look at the list of the unfortunate events of these fiery situations, that moment that my mom gave me that folder was the fire that was ignited within me to start this nonprofit organization.
Justin Gracioux: 00:11:03 And that fire was lit so fast. The next day, Scott, I have to tell you, I reached out to the VA, phone calls, faxes, emails. I was so relentless in my effort to tell them; this is who I am. This is who he is, and we need closure. I want closure, and I will not stop until I receive that closure. December, Christmas Day, my family delivered a small box. And in that box was a bronze Veteran medallion sent to me by the Veteran’s administration to rightfully recognize grandfather and his 14 years of forgotten service. And I cried before my family, because that was the best Christmas gift that I've ever received. And boy, will that go down in history for me? I do want to circle back to the conversation and the question that you had, what was in my heart, this organization started 38 years ago with the passing of my grandfather.
Justin Gracioux: 00:12:23 So every step and breath, every action, success and failure, every heartbreak, I was led to this mission. And to think that even before I was alive, I was working towards it. And I feel so connected to this that this is the mission that God has me on and I'm going forward and I will not stop until my body cannot move. I think it's important that we continue to pass that message along to the community that we live in and across the country and overseas, because we want to pass that torch, as well and ignite the fire in our friends and our families, in our supporters and volunteers, everybody; so that they too can feel and come forward and say, my grandfather, my brother, my sister, my aunt, uncle, they served, let me share their story, too.
Justin Gracioux: 00:13:31 And the beautiful part about this is come forward and share your story. Tell us about your history or the history of someone that you know, because there are so many stories of Valor, honor, service, sacrifice that are oftentimes forgotten, Scott. And it's really unfortunate because I've talked to a couple of friends asking about their history, their family's history in the service, or, serving in law enforcement, fire. And oftentimes the stories are not passed through the generations. So, we're seeing that the stories are not documented. I encourage my friends and families and those that come out to do that research, just start asking and opening the dialogue within their own families, right? Where are they and what did they do? Come forward and tell us who they are so we can recognize them, so we can honor them. So, we can cherish that memory and never forget their name.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:14:38 Absolutely. And that's something that I know about myself and my family history, my grandfather served in the Navy during WWII, and I don't know very much about his service. We do have his service paperwork. So, I know on or about the dates that he served and the ship that he served on and that type of stuff, but as a lot of guys in that generation, they didn't really talk much about that type of stuff. And so, the stories, the stuff on a piece of paper is great, it's good factual, demographic information, but it doesn't talk about the people that he knew and the things that he saw or the things that he did or any of that stuff.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:15:28 It doesn't talk about any of that stuff. So, there's a big gaping hole in that family history of stuff that took place. And it's interesting too. I'm sure that's the same way in your family and countless other families that had people serve, and they just don't know these things about them. I think you should definitely tell the stories whether it's sitting down and talking with people, putting a video camera in front of your face and starting to record it, now that we have this kind of technology the episode that is coming up the week before this episode; so, it should already be out by the time this episode comes out.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:16:16 I talked to a guy who is recording videos of family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, things like that, of fallen service members. and to tell the stories of those people, because who better to tell those stories than the people who knew them best. I think this is kind of a great segue from that previous conversation into the real world. Wouldn't that be great if you can go back all those years and sit your grandfather down and have him tell his story and either write it out or record it on either audio or video or whatever the technology was back then, wouldn't it be great to have that story and be able to hear it from his own lips coming out of his mouth.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:17:09 That to me would be amazing. I know my brother was killed in Afghanistan and I wish I knew more about his story from his point of view. I've gotten to know a lot of the people that he served with and got to talk with a lot of them and it's great to hear some of the funny stories; he was a goofball, so there's plenty of funny stories that people tell us about him. It would be great to have had more from him. It really would be something special. And I think it's something that a lot of Veterans should consider sitting down, either writing down some of the stories or recording them on video or audio or whatever the case may be, tell your story. And that way your kids, your grandkids, other generations aren't going to sit there, scratching their head and wonder what are some of the things that grandpa did back in the war or whatever.
Justin Gracioux: 00:18:11 So Scott, can I ask you a quick question? I'm sorry for your loss, what is your brother's full name? So, I can honor his name before our next suicide awareness run. What is his name?
Scott DeLuzio: 00:18:27 Absolutely. He was a Sergeant in the Army. He's Sergeant Steven DeLuzio.
Justin Gracioux: 00:18:35 Okay. So, I'll give you my word. Before the next suicide awareness run, we will honor his name and share it along the California coast. So that'll be awesome.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:18:49 Yeah. And as far as I'm concerned, as far as that goes, it's one of those things where as long as his name and his story keeps being told then he's not truly gone, you know? I know physically he's gone, it's not like I can call him up on the phone and talk to him, but as long as people keep remembering and saying his name and telling his story, then he's not truly gone for good. So, I definitely appreciate that. I appreciate you reaching out to do that. So, let's talk a little bit about the foundation now. You said it started about a year ago now. What is it that The Oath of Country Foundation is doing and how is it helping Veterans?
Justin Gracioux: 00:19:45 Okay, we as a community, because this organization's not just me. There are Veterans, spouses, their kids. We have law enforcement, firefighters, healthcare workers. We have people from all walks of life that came together in the middle of COVID 19 in 2020. I set out on November 22nd, 2020, actually. I'm sorry, that was the second round. August 8th, 2020, I ran and set out on foot to run for this mission. This was really the first event for us as a country. And I ran 22 miles for 22 Veterans who take their lives a day by way of suicide, with 22 pounds on the 22nd day. And I summoned what I didn't know. I didn't know what was really going on. I just prayed and I poured my heart and soul that people would see the message during one of America's toughest times, facing a pandemic.
Justin Gracioux: 00:21:11 There were real issues going on and in terms of mental health and let's look at it on a deeper level, anxiety, depression, social isolation, there were real issues going on. And I felt that the message, our mental health was not being discussed. I felt that it was very pushed into the corner of a room. And there was no dialogue going on. So, I said, you know what, I'm going to do this. I'm going to get out there and have a run along the California coast. People might see me. A lot of people might see me. I didn't know what was going on. I just said, let's go. My friends, my parents, there was probably a small group of us, maybe eight of us.
Justin Gracioux: 00:22:01 I said, guys, just come follow me. We're going to be in Los Angeles along the California coast. And we were out that I was running with the flag. I had my good friend, Jerry Merit who is a California state leader for Mission 22. He was behind me on the bike. And he was my inspiration to keep moving every step and every pedal of this mission. And, shortly after that, we had another run, November 22nd, 2020, same thing, 22 miles for 22 Veterans with 22 pounds on the 22nd day. So, the message got out after the first one. And we said, you know what? Let's include everybody. Let's bring our families. You have a name that you want to share, you want to honor, bring them forward. You have some heart, passion and love for our service members, bring them, come forward, March, run, ruck, walk, bike, row, alongside us wherever you are. You unite with us for a day and shortly after that, just two weekends ago actually that would have been February 20th, we had our third annual run and I know there's something
Justin Gracioux: 00:23:26 that God has his hands in this mission because the word is out and people are uniting. We have people from all around the country. We even had several supporters in Europe unite, looking at us on February 20th in honor of our Veterans and first responders in raising the public awareness for mental health and not being afraid to open that conversation to break those stigmas that we can't talk about because it's dangerous. I understand the dangers of mental health, but we need to talk about it so we can find the solutions to help those that are suffering the silence today. We have people that are coming out that are looking forward to these events because it is mental health for them because it's something to work towards.
Justin Gracioux: 00:24:22 I have family and friends, people that are training weeks or months in advance now for these events. So, what I'm seeing is this relationship between physical health and mental health, because now people are finding solace and peace in therapy in training for these events. So, we had that impact now where we can say, Hey, this is what we are doing. People are feeling better about themselves. And it's really something special to see them come in, come out for a day and pour their heart and soul blood, sweat, and tears for a day to unite together as brothers and sisters for this cause.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:25:09 Yeah. So, you bring these people out and you're doing these events. Is there an outreach type of program to raise awareness for these events and to get more people coming to them? What is that looking like?
Justin Gracioux: 00:25:33 Yeah, so the social impact program that we're running, which consists of the 22-mile challenge and what we're going to get into the second year with our homeless Vets and Vets campaign, you can find this information on Instagram both the Country Foundation, as well as Facebook. And that's where you can find us, because I am active. I manage these platforms daily, and I do my best to respond to everybody, every question, because I feel that it adds a great deal of added value when you're reaching out to people who ask very specific questions about, Hey how can I be involved? What can I do, I have a name that I'd like for you to honor at the next run. So, it's very personal for a lot of people and we want to continue to share that message and you can find it online.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:26:35 Yeah. You mentioned the homeless outreach program that you have. Would you talk a little bit about that?
Justin Gracioux: 00:26:44 Yes. Okay. I am very excited to share this with you. But first I have to give you a little bit of the backstory, December 19th, 2020 days before Christmas, my friend calls me, he says, Justin, I am here curbside with a homeless Veteran, and he has a dog. He needs help. Can you come? And without any further questions I said, absolutely. So, I'm walking to my car. My neighbor stopped me, early in the morning, he asked, where are you going, kid? I said, I'm driving out to Arcadia, which is about a 30-40 minute drive from my place of residence. And I said, I'm driving right now. I'm going to head out to see a homeless Veteran and to see what his needs are.
Justin Gracioux: 00:27:49 I'm going to help him out. I hear he needs some resources, so I'm going to go in and give him what he needs. And he says, he pulls out his wallet and says, here's an extra $20. Buy some food or buy some extra snacks for this gentleman. And my neighbor’s father, grandfather served in the United States Navy. So, he has a very personal connection to this too. He didn't like hearing that there's homeless Veterans and didn’t like seeing that it's very unfortunate that we have been sleeping on our sidewalks, no home. So, I arrived at the scene. I get there and it's a pretty beat up truck and no Veteran to be found. I'm looking around the location, and there's a reservoir nearby.
Justin Gracioux: 00:28:40 You don't see a mirror, so we're driving around, can find them, get back to the truck. I look inside that about an inch of a crack in the window. I see a small pup laying down in the backseat. And I was just looking at myself, this is no way for anyone, or a Veteran to be living and march over to the store. I purchase, something in the ballpark of, I don't know, 12 to 15 gallons of water and a 20-pound bag of dog food and various other snacks. And I drive it back to his truck and he's nowhere to be found. So, we drove around for two hours looking for this guy. We started asking people in the community, Hey, he camps out here. Where is he? Where would he be spending his time today?
Justin Gracioux: 00:29:31 So we drove around for about two hours looking for this guy, I'm just going to leave. I'm going to leave all the supplies that I have in my truck. I'm going to leave them in the back of his truck and just leave a little note. And I know God answered my prayers and he showed up. He showed up and I popped my trunk. I said, I don't know you. I am here to help. The hardships of being homeless are difficult. And I don't know what it's like. I'm blessed to have a home, but let me help make your day a little easier. I got to know him, he served in the United States Air Force and his dog's name was so cool, Rambo. And I got to know Rambo, and I got to know the Veteran and really understand what his needs are.
Justin Gracioux: 00:30:27 And it's clean water and dog food truth be told. I said, what do you need? He's like just food. I need food. And I said, well, here it is. Hopefully this lasts you a couple of weeks, but quite a bit. And he goes, I will always feed my dog before I feed myself. And that there was a fire that was ignited within me. I said, Noah, I need something more. I need something bigger and better than just my truck. I need more space. I need to help more homeless Veterans. That was a fire that ignited the homeless that's in Pet’s campaign. And just several weeks later, I went and purchased a molting 68 <inaudible> military trailer for the sole purpose of stacking it with clean water and dog food. That is the mission because we are going to be going straight curbside to
Justin Gracioux: 00:31:26 deliver the resources that they need, because I don't ever want to hear that again. I don't want to know that they are sacrificing their own meal for the day for their dog. And we move a lot of our homeless heroes who have pets. They become their best friends. They've become that companion, guide that will listen always. And I said, you know what? This is the mission. We are going to add this to our social impact program, the mental health 22-mile challenge and in our homeless Vets campaign. I am working exclusively. Let me share the names with you. I'm working exclusively with several businesses and nonprofits to help join us in this objective to feed our homeless heroes. But I do want to say, and allow me to state for the record,
Justin Gracioux: 00:32:30 we are going to be serving everybody that is homeless. You don't have to be a Veteran for us to help you. Everybody deserves clean water, and if they have a dog, they need dog food too. We're going to be helping everybody. It's not just those that we call Veterans or anybody else. It is just inclusive of everybody. We're going to serve everybody that we see. I do want to tell you I'm partnered with some very important organizations who are doing phenomenal things here in Southern California, as well as across the country. Allow me to state for the record, Front Sight Military Outreach and these are our lists of our partners, Rucking to Remember, Brotherhood Bridge Foundation, Working Dogs for Warriors, American <inaudible> Save Our Six, Rescue Brewery Company, Nature’s Select. They've donated a bag of dog food, for this campaign to help kickstart it, Mission 22, the VA in West Los Angeles, Monrovia fire department, various law enforcement stations and local city officials are all hopping on board to help us give and serve. Time was served and it's now time to honor and that's our mission.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:34:00 Awesome. And so, your ultimate goal with a lot of this stuff, a lot of the suicide awareness programs looking at reducing the number, that 22 a day, obviously we'd all want it to be zero a day, but baby steps here, we can't run before we can crawl and walk. So, let's reduce that number. What are some of the steps that you think that might be able to help reduce that 22 a day geared towards the Veteran community to try to reduce the number of Veterans suicides, but also there are other people involved too. There might be things that family members or friends, a community can do to help in reducing this number and maybe they just don't realize that there are steps that they can be taking. Do you have any thoughts or advice on that?
Justin Gracioux: 00:34:59 Absolutely. So let me share with you as a healthcare professional working in a very complex dynamic environment right now with COVID 19. I saw the struggles that our doctors, nurses and support staff are facing. And I said to myself, just while sitting in the office one day, I said, we need to talk about this. I started bringing it up in conversation with, Hey, what can we do to help them out, to make your day a little easier? And what we're doing is now being inclusive with our healthcare professionals to get them to come out and start talking about what they're going through and to share their daily struggles, because I can tell you what, during these events, we have people that are opening up in that dialogue to share what they're going through.
Justin Gracioux: 00:36:06 I might not know a certain aspect of, let's just say depression for example, but I'll tell you what, I have a good friend who is going through this, let me connect you with him. And we've become that shoulder to lean on during, not just for a day, but we've established lifelong friendships walking away from these events. People are now reaching out to one another to say, Hey, I need help. What words of encouragement can you share with me today? And I know people are picking up the phone and starting to call so that we're finding the power of friendships and the power of fellowship, the power of knowing somebody that you didn't know, 20 to 24 hours before that are marching, running alongside you with the same mission, the same objective of taking that number from 22 to zero.
Justin Gracioux: 00:37:09 And what's important too, is I've had this discussion with several of our partners. We want to talk about our spouses and in our youth, the dependence, because they're fighting just as much as those that are on the front lines and in the battles that they go through too. So, we've seen the wives and the girlfriends come together and find that commonality where they're now opening that conversation, Hey, you know what, this is what I've gone through. You're going through it. Let me help you get through the next day. Let me tell you about what I've done to get through the daily challenges. So, to answer your question, when you're looking to your left and your right, and you're on a bike, or on foot, or you're walking during these days that we put on these 22-mile challenges there is really something to be said about knowing that you are not alone, because there's somebody there to walk alongside you that pick you up when you're down.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:38:29 Right? And that's one of the reasons that I started this podcast even, and there's a lot of other things that people are doing, but to let people know that they're not alone is a huge, a huge relief sometimes when you're struggling, sometimes you get so much tunnel vision, and you're just focused on this one problem, and you can't see your way out. And then all of a sudden, you might hear a story of someone else who went through something similar, and you hear that they did find their way out, and this is what they did, and this is how they got themselves out of it. And all of a sudden, now there's a little spark of hope, and that's sort of the message I kind of want to share. And it sounds like that's similar to what you're saying there is that you're not alone.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:39:19 and if you're able to get through this day, maybe you can get through, maybe tomorrow will be a little bit better and you can get through that next day, too. Get through these days, get through day after day and work on getting better, get to seeing the brighter side of things, and if messages like this offer a little bit of hope that there's some hope out there for you, then so be it, but keep fighting, I guess, is the ultimate goal.
Justin Gracioux: 00:40:01 And especially with our youth too. Our youth are always watching, very observant and we want to be that example for them, what we want to tell them and show them why we do what we do, because one day we're going to pass the Baton to them and they are going to run with it. And we're all unified in this goal to push for this public conversation that we're bringing to light, breaking down those stigmas. And just the simple fact that people think it's taboo to talk about the daily struggles of depression and PTSD. We want to let people know that when they come out, that there is a family that will sit and listen, that we can look at them in the eyes truly and say, “Hey, you know what, we want to know what is really going on, because quite frankly, we don't want anybody suffering from these invisible wounds that we don't see every day.”
Justin Gracioux: 00:41:15 It’s tough to know who's really going through it. If they're not really coming out to talk. This segues into this next thing I want to bring up, which is very important to me. I'm at this past run in February, I had the honor and privilege to have the mother of a Marine Veteran come out and this amazing woman, God bless her, she walked over 20, she walked 25 miles. Scott, can you believe that? I think there was some confusion with the trail and what it was from what I gathered from her. And I met her at the finish line. It opened and exposed her to,
Justin Gracioux: 00:42:07 the homeless, the plague of homelessness here in Southern California. And it's very unfortunate that we have so many of them sleeping along the shoreline here in Southern California. And it opened up that conversation to what we can do to help. We also discussed what she learned from it and what she learned from that event.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:42:37 Sure
Justin Gracioux: 00:42:38 She may have lost her son, but she gained about 50 other sons and daughters from that day, because we were able to not only honor his name. Prior to the run we looked at her and we told her, “Hey, you are not alone. We expect you to come, come back out and continue to raise this public awareness of mental health.” And we were also just motivated by her story. And what she said was, the sacrifice, the pain that we felt for one day, putting in those steps, those pedals, does not compare to the amount of pain that our Veterans and first responders feel every day and to put ourselves to empathize and feel a little bit of that really puts things in perspective.
Justin Gracioux: 00:43:45 I do have to acknowledge, let me share this with you, my friend there were two guys, three actually. While on the trail, Scott, the site of the body breaking down, I mean, to the point where it just raises in tarring because we're at mile 18, 19 and 20, when you see somebody's body jugs completely freezing time, lock up, because it's to the point of and beyond the point of exhaustion, really it is, it's unbelievable because the fact that they're willing to do what they do, because they know somebody, because their brothers have served or somebody in their family, just it's really something because they're willing to put themselves through one of the hardest things for the day to acknowledge that service and sacrifice, and they kept going, Scott, they kept going. It is truly inspirational when you can look at these guys and their body is just completely broken down, but when it is broken down on that level, there's really peace that you can find within yourself to say, that next step counts that next matter and powering your brain and separating your mind and your body from itself. And there is an objective, there's a mission and people are churning on us today to get that next step. And we're encouraging everybody who goes,
Scott DeLuzio: 00:45:44 I think more important than that next step is to not quit. It really becomes mind over matter. I know from my own personal experiences doing some of the stuff in the Army that we had to do, some of the long ruck marches and the days on end without coming back to a bed that we can sleep in or anything like that. We were sleeping out in the woods or we're sleeping out wherever it was that we were in the cold, the rain and everything that we dealt with. It's just a matter of just not quitting. I think the segue there, or the not segue, the takeaway there, from that is apply that to life.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:46:36 You know, there are a lot of hard things that we do in life. If you're struggling with mental health issues, depression, anxiety, whatever, just don't quit, keep fighting at it and you'll get through at some point you'll get through. I know for me, a lot of times I didn't want to take another step. My body was breaking down and I didn't want to take another step, but I did. And I kept taking that next step and that next step and the next step. And eventually I came to the finish line, or we ended at some point and there weren’t any more steps that needed to be taken. And the pack fell off my shoulders and my body felt so much better because it was that much lighter. And I was able to finally get a shower. I was finally able to get some warmth, stuff like that and things got better. And I think that's kind of the takeaway is that, maybe you're struggling through something right now. But that struggle is going to be over at some point, and it will get better as long as you keep taking that next step.
Justin Gracioux: 00:47:52 And I agree with that. I can guarantee you, if you come out for one of these days or one of these events, it will change your life. You can't say that it will not work if you've never given it a try. We are encouraging our friends and our families that come forward to come give it a try, because I can tell you who you will meet some exceptional people that are on these godly missions and these nonprofits that we're partnering with and bringing their communities forward. So, what we're looking at is truly a unified front, because we're all offering different levels of support for mental health. And we're all sort of looking at this as a piece to a pie. We're all working together in solidarity to offer different solutions that we all can bring to the table.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:49:09 Now I know you had a few dates coming up of events that you had lined up that are coming out. I know that we're recording this a few weeks before this episode is actually going to come out, but are there any dates that you wanted to share with the audience who might be located in the Southern California area who might be able to come out and support your organization and these events?
Justin Gracioux: 00:49:36 Yes. So, I have two. Country officially partnered with Rucking to Remember, the founder and president. We'll be flying out from his home state and coming here to Southern Sunny California, the first weekend of April. And he will be coming out to get his steps in. And what I mean by that is we have a 22-mile challenge coming up the first weekend of April which is truly going to be an unforgettable experience. So, anybody's welcome to come join us as the Country Foundation will certainly have a Front Sight Military Outreach, Working Dogs for Warriors and friends and families come out to that. But we're looking forward to, in the planning stages of a Memorial day weekend, 22-mile challenge, that will look a little different next time, because we are including our youth.
Justin Gracioux: 00:50:38 We want to set up a little course for our kids as well as our spouses and honestly, our older Veterans too. There's a couple of guys that I want to see out there on bikes that would love to participate. I'm trying to partner with electric bike companies or even bike shops that are willing to help us acquire some electric bikes so we can get our older Veterans out there too. And I'm thinking of one guy in particular my best friend Sandy Sanchez, who was my chief financial officer, 33 years of service in the Navy, went on to work at the Pentagon after the service and Vietnam Veteran. And I want to see him out there with us and support him from the sideline with the flag.
Justin Gracioux: 00:51:27 And I looked at my son and saw, in a year you are the salt of the earth and truly an honorable man. And there's others like him out there that we want to bring forward to participate in, and have boots on the ground with us in solidarity. It's really something special. So yeah, Memorial day weekend, and looking forward to when I will be announcing on social media, the StreetSide Outreach for our homeless Vets and Pets campaign. So, I'll be announcing to the public the days that we will be going curbside. I'll give you a good example. We have here in Los Angeles, Veterans row, if you're familiar with the term skid row here in Los Angeles, we have it, it's very unfortunate.
Justin Gracioux: 00:52:24 We have homeless encampments that consist of our Veterans. So, we're going right to them. And I will be announcing that on social media when we will be going to them. I actually recently had the privilege to partner with, the Veterans administration West Los Angeles campus in their homeless outreach program that they have; we became a stakeholder otherwise as a partner to provide them with the resources and needs that they know our homeless Veterans need such as sleeping bags, socks, all the way to tents and chairs with awnings. This is all information that we'll be sharing on our social media platforms or for people to help donate to OT Country Foundation. I do want to bring up an event that I didn't bring up previously on January 30th, 2021 Stars and Stripes, barbecue, and Oath to Country Foundation partnered together to host our first annual mental health awareness fundraiser. 100% of those proceeds from that barbecue, which shows out to be $3,545 that we raised in four hours from 12 to 4:00 PM. 100% of those proceeds are going to the purchase of the resources and items that homeless heroes need. So, Eddie Hernandez is a Veteran owned operation. He is a proud board member of OT Country Foundation, and we're working together to host more barbecues, so we can raise as much money as we can to help our homeless Veterans.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:54:24 Yeah, that's great. And everyone's got to eat, right? So, you might as well come out, have some good food, raise some money for Veterans and help out along the way. So that's great. You mentioned briefly that you're going to share a bunch of this information on social media, probably some information is available on your website. Would you mind sharing where people can go to get in touch with you and find out more about all the upcoming events and more about The Oath to Country Foundation and how to donate, or if they're not in your area to physically come out and help, if they're willing to donate what they can do there?
Justin Gracioux: 00:55:09 Yes, absolutely. You can go to www.tocountryfoundation.org. there's a donation button that you can click and donate a dollar, anything will go a long way. You can also check out Instagram Oath to Country Foundation. Scott, honestly, I check every single message that hits my inbox. So, there's no message that will go unseen. We have an Amazon smile account set up where you can go on Amazon smile and purchase a list of items that I have selected for the homeless that's in Vets campaign, such as sleeping bags and buckets and Ziploc bags and collapsible, dog bowls, things of that nature. You can see the extensive list there. You can check us out on Facebook as well or Oath to Country Foundation.
Justin Gracioux: 00:56:09 I will see everything. If you message me asking how you want to get involved, or you want to make a donation, I will totally not only message you back, but I will ask you for your phone number so I can call you. And it's that personal too. I really may make it a point to make it personal, because I want people to know that we're here for the long haul, and we're going to find these solutions with our partners and we're going to make a difference, and we're going to leave this place better than how we found it. And I know that these are sizable challenges that we are facing. I want people to know that there is no mountain too high or any challenge too difficult before us, because we're ready to step up to the plate and we're ready.
Justin Gracioux: 00:57:18 We're ready to go. We're ready to go hard. And we are relentless and we only hope that we continue to grow our team. We are one team; one fight and I cannot stress that enough. There are other exceptional organizations out there and individuals raising the awareness, we're all together in this as one team, one fight. And we cannot do this without them. Quite frankly, it would be lonely. It wouldn't be fun. And I mean, how far would we go if it were just myself? And so, we've summoned the help and support of those partners, organizations and businesses so that we can have a significant impact, not just here in Southern California, but I'm talking nationwide; we're only a couple of minutes in, if you look back, the first run was August 8th and we're here, February 20, we're only a couple months in, and we've woken the sleeping giant, Scott.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:58:32 That's great. Well, your passion for this is very evident, just in this short amount of time talking to you, I can clearly see that you have a fire and a passion. So, I have no doubt that you're not going anywhere anytime soon with any thought. Hats off to you with that and everything that you do. It's really been a pleasure speaking with you to find out more about what you're doing and everything. And I think that the passion is definitely there. And I think that that's an important aspect of all of this to keep you motivated and keep you going, especially when times get tough, because they inevitably will. They do for any foundation, any organization, times do get tough and they get hard. Passion can take you over that hump. So definitely hats off to you. And before we wrap up, I just wanted to ask if there's any kind of closing thoughts or any other things that you had before we wrapped up.
Justin Gracioux: 00:59:42 Yes, I did. I did forget to mention one of the biggest events of the year, and I want everybody to put it on their calendar right now, go into your phone, open up your calendar and put the month of August for Working Dogs, Barriers, Front Sight, Military Outreach and Oath to Country Foundation are going to be putting on the first ever, annual mental health awareness event in the city of Ontario. And this is truly going to be something special. We've never seen this done before. Quite frankly, we want to roll this out in other cities, working with city officials to allow us to come into their cities and host these events where we have trained mental health professionals, where we have motivational speakers, where we have anywhere from our Veterans and first responders, we will see people from all walks of life come together for this event.
Justin Gracioux: 01:00:44 And we're looking at a date of August 21st, 2021. So, more details to come on that front on all my social media platforms, I will be discussing that in detail with everybody. So, there's that last important update that I want to share with everybody listening. And there are more runs to come. I will be hosting donation drives in various cities with that 1968 military trailer that I purchased and where I will ask people to come forward to donate sleeping bags and the goods that we need to go street side.
Scott DeLuzio: So, anything else you have to share with us, thoughts?
Justin Gracioux: 01:01:33 No. I think that that just about does it on my end here, and I think it's important for everyone, especially from the Southern California area.
Scott DeLuzio: Follow Oath to Country Foundation on Instagram and Facebook. Check out their website. I saw on your website, you have an email, a newsletter signup thing, too. Sign up for their newsletter; so, you can be kept in the loop if you're willing to participate in any of these events or you want to donate your time or resources, whatever you have available. I'm sure all of that would be appreciated by them. Follow them on social media, get on their newsletter, check out their website, all that stuff, and help out where you can.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:02:20 Help out, help out Veterans along the way. So, with that, thank you again for sharing your story and your journey, to where you're at now. It really has been a pleasure speaking with you today and hearing your passion come out in this episode.
Justin Gracioux: Scott, thank you for your time, as well as your service to this country. As I mentioned, I will be honoring your brother before our next run. And I just want everybody to know that our organization is a place where he can come to laugh, cry, to heal, to honor the past and embrace a future that we are working. So come be a part of our team, our family, we are open arms and in walking, everybody that wants to come help make a difference in the lives of our Veterans and first responders.
Justin Gracioux: 01:03:11 So come help, let's make a difference and live a long road ahead, but we're in it for the long haul. Scott, thank you. I want to thank God for this opportunity for allowing me to go before you in our community, country, and I'm sure people across the world are listening to your podcast. So, I'm grateful for where you forgot my grandfather and again, Cliff or connected me with decisive aim. Thank you, this is truly an unforgettable experience and I will never forget this. And I only hope that you and I can have another podcast sit down maybe a year from now to share more updates with you because we'll continue to cover as we grow. I'm sure there will be more updates and with the fire and passion and more things will come up and I'm sure there'll be some stuff to talk about in the future too.
Scott DeLuzio: So, we'll have to have you back on. All right. Let's see. All right. Thanks again.
Justin Gracioux: Thank you, Scott.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:04:17 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at DriveOnPodcast.