After struggles as veteran, Shaw rebounds to steer at Planet Health


D’Angelo Shaw, general manager of the Planet Fitness Center in Statesboro, credits the company for helping him find his way back to stable civil life and leadership after serving PTSD and near- Had experienced homelessness.

Now he has teamed up with the Fight the War Within Foundation, founded in the Savannah region in 2020, to provide human connections and information on resources, and prevent suicides, to veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. Shaw, now a Statesboro resident, and James Collins, a Fight the War Within Foundation board member of Guyton, hosted a brief dedication ceremony for a Wall of Heroes at the Planet Fitness Club Thursday morning.

The first 10 name tapes, patches with only last names, as worn on combat uniforms, were placed on a special plaque on the wall in honor of 10 veterans who, as Shaw put it, “lost their inner struggles”. Some, but not all, of the foregoing had ties with eastern Georgia.

This gesture is intended to lower the stigma while honoring those who have served their nation and communities but lost their lives as a result of these struggles, usually by suicide. The plaque can also be used to commemorate civil public safety personnel who were lost in similar fighting.

“We wanted to build a wall of remembrance so that they would be recognized and remembered, whatever their background, be it the cop, the ambulance, the fire department, the military or any armed forces,” said Shaw. “We want to make sure that all of these employees are remembered.”

’22 a day ‘

For the Fight the War Within Foundation, the main mission is to counter a suicide epidemic among US military veterans.

“We are connecting those struggling with their inner struggles with mental health resources to eradicate the 22-day epidemic,” said Collins.

Internet research shows that slogans and programs that cite “22 a day” as the suicide rate among veterans, sometimes including current military personnel, date back at least 2015.

The average daily number of veterans suicides reported in the Department of Veterans Affairs annual suicide prevention reports is slightly lower. The VA reports also include veterans of all ages, not just those who served in the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2005, the number of veteran suicides was highest in 2018, when these reports showed the nationwide number of 6,435, or an average of 17.6 per day. In 2019 there were 6,261 veteran suicides, or 17.2 per day. But the suicide rate remains significantly higher among veterans than among non-veterans at a time when the rate has been increasing in the general population.

“We’re trying to bring those numbers down by connecting veterans and local heroes with resources for those in need,” Shaw said.

Collins noted that the Fight the War Within Foundation itself does not provide advice.

“Our main goal is … to connect people who are injured or who need them to mental health resources,” he said. “We are not consultants ourselves. Neither of us are clinically trained. We connect the resources and the dots to give them the help they need. “

The foundation, Collins said, is backed by several other organizations with a presence in the area, including Through Tragedy Comes Light and Man 22 Suicide Awareness, which were the first to use the nameplates in memorials. He and others wear the names on commemorative vests. Now, Planet Fitness’s Statesboro Club is a partner in this effort.

Shaw’s story

D’Angelo Shaw has a story of her own about recovering from PTSD. Originally from Monroe, Louisiana, he served in the Army for 13 years, was promoted to staff sergeant and was posted to Afghanistan for one year, around 2013, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

After previously stationed at Hunter Army Airfield, he returned to Savannah when he left the army. He originally worked in a sawmill but said he gave up on mental health issues.

“When I got out of the military, I had a lot of battles that I fought,” Shaw said. “One of them had mostly PTSD, depression, anxiety and the like, and that put me in a position where I couldn’t find stable work. So I went into a break-in to the point where I kind of isolated myself.

“I had friends, I had family, but the embarrassment kept me from asking for help, so I bounced between places in my car and stuff with no permanent home,” he said.

Occasionally he actually slept in his car, but more often stayed with different friends. Shaw also spent his time exercising at a Planet Fitness in a Savannah. There a general manager hired him as a cleaner and took on tasks such as wiping down equipment. That manager also referred him to South University, where he went back to school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2020.

Then, 11 months after starting as a cleaner in December 2019, Shaw became general manager of the Planet Fitness Club in Rincon. Meanwhile, Planet Fitness opened Club Statesboro in April of that year, which occupies a large portion of the building that once housed Kmart on Northside Drive East.

The fitness center opened under a different manager, but Shaw, 36, arrived as general manager in September. He now heads a staff or more than 10 people as the membership continues to grow.

“Planet Fitness actually gave me the opportunity to improve not just as an employee, but as a person in general,” he said. “They gave me the opportunity to lead and I showed them what I can do.”

Now Shaw hopes to help other veterans and first responders faced with mental crisis find a way forward.

“I just want to make sure the staff who are fighting these battles know that we are out here, that we are here to help, and there are organizations nearby – including Fight the War Within – that are helping them and help them. “Fight these battles,” he said. “I don’t want to see them on this wall.”

Wall of Heroes

But the Wall of Heroes is there to remember those who served their nation and communities before they lost their internal struggles.

The first name on the board was “Briggs” for Garrett Briggs, who was at 1-75. Ranger Regiment of the Army served. After experiencing fights in 2013, he struggled with post-traumatic stress and substance abuse disorder before his death on January 31, 2018. He left behind his wife Miranda Briggs and daughter Essex. Miranda Briggs, a Richmond Hill resident, founded the Fight the War Within Foundation two years later.

The second surname added was that of Cameron Bull, who was born in 1993 on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a US Marine Corps base and joined the Marines Unit in 2013. But he was never the same after his honorable discharge, and after he committed suicide of depression on March 9, 2019. His mother, Georgia Wagner, who now lives in Augusta, was the only family member attending Thursday’s brief ceremony.

“If we can save every family from this living nightmare, our loved ones will not have died in vain,” she said in the brief prepared statement about her son’s life. “Your life is important. Your life is important. His life was important. “