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Twenty-five veterans a day: That’s how many men and women who’ve served in our armed forces commit suicide on average, according to the 2018 U.S. Department of Defense Annual Suicide Report.
Bobby Somers, 39, a medically retired Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, was almost one of those vets until the FitOps Foundation—and food—saved his life.
During his 13 years of military service, Somers put his body and mind on the line almost every day. And a single grenade, which exploded near his Humvee during a tour in Iraq, left him with a permanent reminder of that service. As a result of his time overseas and that blast, he suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a traumatic brain injury, which affects his memory, shrapnel lodged in his knee, and feelings of depression.
These ailments, combined with a feeling of abandonment from the military, made Somers’s transition to civilian life difficult. He started a job as an Army recruiter, which left him feeling unfulfilled, and he self-medicated as a result. Somers was lost. That is, until he sought a new path in life: culinary school.
“I fell in love with cooking, the chaos in the kitchen,” he says, noting how working as a chef helped him calm down and deal with obsessive tendencies. “It made sense in my brain.”
Though Somers felt a renewed sense of purpose through cooking, his new role as stay-at-home dad left him feeling like less of a man.
A downward spiral began soon after. Regular thoughts of suicide began playing out more and more in his mind. Somers even admits to lining his bathroom with plastic, as it would make it easier for his family to clean up the mess.
“I was really suicidal at this point,” Somers says. “I was just lost. The only thing I knew was being a soldier.”
Thankfully, something stopped Somers from following through on his suicide attempt: his daughter. “I’ve felt the metal of the gun in my mouth before,” Somers states in a video on FitOps’ home page. “But I didn’t do it because I didn’t get to see my daughter that morning.”
It was shortly after that Somers learned about the FitOps Foundation, and decided to apply to the 2½-week program to become a certified personal trainer.
It took some adjustment, but eventually Somers would find himself opening up to his fellow veterans about his war experiences, as well as the details of his suicide attempt. Somers even broke down in tears at one point, his emotions pouring out of him. “This place literally saved my life,” says Somers, who now travels the country to speak about the veteran suicide epidemic.
Unlike the traditional FitOps candidate, Somers bypassed the personal training route to continue his culinary path. Currently, he’s the Director of Nutrition for FitOps.
In the kitchen, Somers pays homage to his Caribbean and Mexican roots, relying on real, fresh ingredients to prepare signature dishes such as his turkey chili with jasmine rice. He refuses to adapt to any fly-by-night trendy diets, preferring to stick with the basics of “protein, carb, and vegetable.” (Though he does whip up a mean vegetarian option for the herbivores at FitOps.)
“It’s just like a workout—there’s so many ways to build your biceps,” Somers says. “But the one true way to do anything is to just get in there and do the basics.”
At camp, Somers is in charge of dispensing breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as serving candidates two snacks a day—options like peanut butter, granola, and fruit. His recipes may be basic, but they’re packed with complex flavors, like his turkey chili, barbecue rib-eye steaks, and sautéed vegetables and rice. The key, he says, is to “cook with a lot of love and cook it clean.”
Somers dismisses the notion that all healthy food tastes bad—instead insisting people can be lazy in preparing meals. “You literally boiled a piece of chicken. How good did you think a boiled piece of chicken is going to be?” Somers says. “There’s nothing wrong with mustard or honey or some spices and seasonings. Use some herbs, man!” With a new outlook on life, Somers’ mission is to help and inspire those who have gone through ordeals similar to his.
“I just really like helping people,” Somers says. “Suicide is a big issue. That’s turned into my mission. I want to speak about it and I want to show how food has helped with that stuff.”
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