Operation Prevent 22 Founder Mark O’Shea

Operation Prevent 22 Founder Mark O’Shea with his wife, Tiffany, and Chris Flanders, co-founder and outreach coordinator.

Mark O’Shea peppers his conversation with the phrase “comfort zone.” He said he does not attempt to tackle new challenges, but his words point elsewhere. 

Calling his teenage self shy, O’Shea joined the military to turn his life around. 

“I was very timid,” he said. “I was very quiet. I avoided confrontation at all costs. I wasn’t doing well with the people I surrounded myself with. I didn’t have any confidence in myself whatsoever. 

“I thought about joining the military when I was young, but I was always so small. I didn’t seem like it was in the cards.”

Eventually, he did it — and he called it the best thing he has done. Others might say the same. As a result of his service, he founded Operation Prevent 22, which provides resources and monthly outings to provide the companionship veterans may have lost and the safe space they need. 

O’Shea collaborates with other local nonprofits and organizations to accomplish this. 

“The statistic, which I hate to say, is that 22 veterans a day take their own lives due to PTSD, depression or anxiety,” said O’Shea of Avondale. 

“They can’t get a lot of help, or they don’t know where to get the help. We’re out there. It’s hard to find a lot of it. There was a year stretch when I was in a dark, dark place. I didn’t think I was ever going to get out of it. I tried to get help at the VA, but if you don’t stay on them, you’re not going to get help. You have to be a thorn in somebody’s side. If you don’t have that will to keep going, that’s when people get lost. They fall out of the system. They’re swept under the rug, and that’s when bad things happen.”

One day he woke up and decided that changes were needed, not just for him but for other veterans.  

“I went to check myself into a rehab facility because I was super depressed,” he said. “I found a lot of the civilian ones cost a lot of money. I don’t have that kind of money. At first, I got really upset. I got to the point where I wanted to seek help, but I got shut down because of money.”

Gaining experience

O’Shea and his wife, Tiffany, met when he was 17 at Glendale’s Great Skate, where he was working. O’Shea said he did well when he graduated high school and found a good job. 

After two years, he joined the Army in 2010 — the year after he and Tiffany were married. 

“I had to push myself into something completely foreign,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, if I hadn’t done that. I have a family I probably wouldn’t have. Everything I have that’s good came from the decision to join the military.”

He served in the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, which was reflagged in 2014 to an expeditionary military intelligence brigade, the first of its kind. The unit specializes in the acquisition and analysis of information with potential military value. 

“I went to Afghanistan right after I got to my unit,” he said. “Basically, I went to airborne school, picked up my wife and drove to North Carolina. Two months later, I was in Afghanistan for a year. 

“She didn’t see me for a long time. It worked out really well. I got my combat patch right away. I ranked up, respectwise, right in the beginning. I learned quickly that being timid wasn’t an option. You have to be aggressive. Once or twice, I wasn’t aggressive, and it wasn’t a good decision. Once I figured that out, I was a new person.”

After the military, he jumped into a new career and adjusted relatively well but still had dark days. He suggests taking the bull by its horns, not easing into everyday life, as it makes it harder to adjust. 

“You get stuck,” he said. “You get stuck, and you don’t know what to do. My thing was to get unstuck before I actually got stuck. I have different techniques to get through it.”

Longtime mission

O’Shea started his organization in August 2020, but his work began in 2014. 

When he left the military, he realized “how broken and thinly stretched” the Phoenix VA was. 

“We didn’t realize the severity until we were left without the help we needed for seven years,” he said. 

“As the years went on, we realized this is the norm for veterans. We watched our fellow veterans slowly travel down that dark road and eventually end their lives. We decided last year that we are going to do everything in our power to help prevent veteran suicide.”

O’Shea’s goal is to help veterans and their families until each one has the help and camaraderie he or she needs. Occasionally, spouses and children are invited to his events so they can network with others.

Operation Prevent 22 has three principals: O’Shea, Tiffany, and Chris Flanders of North Phoenix. 

“We’re simple,” he said. “We organize these events and pay for them to go. We tell them this is where your money goes. I buy the shirts I sell from an online company. My wife and I cut out all the vinyl. We make the shirts, and we send them out. We try to cut costs as much as we can.”

He’s hoping in January to host veterans at Topgolf around the 15th. 

“It’s a little pricey, but I think it would be fun,” he said. “I’d also like to rent a pontoon boat on Lake Pleasant and do some fishing in the summer — something that’s inviting to people. 

“I want more people to come so they can see that it’s not just some random thing that people won’t enjoy. I want them to be comfortable enough to want to come. It’s hard when you’re very reserved. These events force me to get out and do things. Sometimes, I just want to stay home and be by myself. But this makes me go, and it’s healthy.”

O’Shea’s plan is to purchase land near Prescott or Sedona and build small cabins or tiny homes for a veteran retreat from “that life that everyone’s so stressed out about.” The community is a rather pricey endeavor, he said, but it will be worth it.

The homes, he hopes, will have solar energy with phone chargers and select other amenities.

“I want to spend time with them in a different environment,” he said. 

“We all need time to get our minds right and talk. Hopefully, I can have volunteer counselors who can come out and help with coping mechanisms and yoga. That actually helps. It helps get your mind right. The biggest part is to get them out of here and somewhere else.”

 

Operation Prevent 22

Avondale

operationprevent22.com