Super Bowl gives retired Columbus soldier national platform to raise awareness for veterans’ mental health
COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Retired U.S. Army Sgt. and Columbus native Melvin Gatewood is headed to the Super Bowl.
It’s a gift from All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and part of the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative.
Sgt. Gatewood runs the nonprofit, Operation Continue Service, an organization that seeks to connect with veterans who may be experiencing mental health issues and guide them towards proper treatment.
“Remembering those who have fallen and motivating those that still stand,” he said, reciting their motto.
During his three years in the Army, Sgt. Gatewood was deployed to Iraq as a Humvee driver for the Quick Reaction Force, which sent him on presence patrols and convoy missions.
“MST, military sexual trauma, PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anger, depression, racism, anxiety,” he says. “These are all issues that individuals carry on a daily basis within our military personnel and our veteran population.”
Sgt. Gatewood earned the Purple Heart after surviving one of those convoy missions in 2005.
“I couldn’t even talk or tell the story without breaking down and crying,” he says. “Because it was still emotional. It was still raw.”
Sgt. Gatewood says that for him, it was talking with older service members about their shared experiences that taught him how vital it was to treat those internal scars.
One of the main ways his organization does this is through recovery rucks, which are long, military-style marches meant to remind those involved of the bond they all share.
“When I ruck, I have this weighted vest on,” he says. “We’re showing that we’re carrying the weight doing the ruck, but after the ruck, we want the individual to take off their burdens.”
Now his efforts have gained national attention.
“I got an email saying that I was nominated for the Superbowl,” he said.
Teaming up with Official NFL Salute to Service Partner USAA and and the Wounded Warrior Project, Hopkins decided to award a trip to the Super Bowl to a deserving military member.
On January 28th, he announced on Twitter that he was choosing Sgt. Gatewood.
In a statement, the Arizona Cardinals receiver says:
“Our nation owes a debt of gratitude to Sergeant Melvin Gatewood, an Army veteran, for his military service and his continued service in helping fellow military veterans. Thanks to USAA and the Wounded Warrior Project, I’m honored to award Sgt. Gatewood a trip to the Super Bowl, where I look forward to meeting with him.”
While the retired sergeant says he is thrilled to meet the NFL star and attend his first Super Bowl, he’s even more grateful for the spotlight this puts on his cause.
“Letting you know that I’ve walked that walk, and it’s okay to tell your story,” he says.
Sgt. Gatewood now lives in Tennessee, but he makes regular visits back to the Golden Triangle to hold rucks and other events.
On May 7th, Operation Continue Service plans on holding a 20-mile march from Starkville to Columbus to bring awareness to veteran suicide and other mental health concerns.