Clothing line to benefit veterans with PTSD

By Lisa Kaczke on Jan 22, 2017 at 3:58 p.m.


Tech. Sgt. Jim Lewis has crossed paths with veterans and active duty service members living with post-traumatic stress disorder during his service with the U.S. Air Force.

In getting to know service members who had PTSD on a deployment a few years back, the Duluth resident realized that many veterans organizations address the physical wounds from combat, but few focus only on PTSD caused by combat.

Lewis, who has served for nearly 19 years and currently works for the ROTC at the University of Minnesota Duluth, is using his passion for helping people to launch a clothing line called The Silent Battle to bring awareness and raise money to help local veterans with PTSD.

“That’s why I created The Silent Battle — because most of these veterans, they don’t want to talk about it. It’s like an internal battle within themselves. The battle for them starts after they leave the battlefield,” Lewis said.

He launched the clothing line in August and offers jackets, vests and hats, made with recycled military blankets. He plans on adding sweatshirts, pants and mittens. The items are custom made locally by Harold and Jeaneth Deterling, owners of West Duluth Sewing and Design. The clothes can be purchased online or be custom fitted to the customer at West Duluth Sewing and Design.

The Silent Battle’s mission is to “improve the lives of PTSD survivors and those who are affected by PTSD,” he said.

Symptoms of PTSD can include reliving the event through nightmares and flashbacks or by sights and smells that trigger the memories, avoiding situations that could trigger memories of the event or avoiding talking or thinking about the event, negative changes in beliefs or feelings toward people or relationships, feeling “keyed up” by being jittery and on alert and suddenly becoming angry or irritable, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Part of the proceeds from the clothing sales go to 23rd Veteran, a Twin Ports organization that works to empower veterans with PTSD and provides education on combat stress.

“A lot of veterans need to know that they’re being supported by people in our community,” Lewis said.

Mike Waldron, executive director of 23rd Veteran, connected with Lewis when he bumped into him on UMD’s campus and thanked him for his service. Donations to 23rd Veteran fund the 23V Recon program and educational programs.

The 23V Recon program reconditions combat veterans’ brains through exercise and psychology by connecting triggers to positive events rather than life-or-death situations, enabling the veteran to successfully live in the civilian world, Waldron said.

23rd Veteran also provides education to “universities and businesses and community colleges and teach what combat stress is, what changes in our brain and why we bring that home with us and what they can do to create a more friendly environment for veterans as well,” Waldron said.

Lewis said he wants veterans to know that people in the community want to help them improve their lives and has encountered a lot of people in the Twin Ports who have family members with PTSD.

“That’s why I support anyone going through this because these family members have been through a lot and the people who are going through it right now are dealing with their own struggles,” he said.

When he decided to create The Silent Battle, he enlisted the help of Harold and Jeaneth Deterling. By using a local business, Lewis explained that he’s helping the community while helping veterans. He spent months working with Jeaneth to create patterns for the clothing to ensure they got it right. Jeaneth noted that she loves the challenge of designing and fixing garments.

“That’s why I really like working with them, because they’re so patient,” Lewis said.

Lewis, a native of New Orleans, initially enlisted in the military as a way to pay for college, but decided to continue enlisting because he enjoyed the military lifestyle. He initially wanted to enlist in the U.S. Navy, but his father suggested he look into the U.S. Army and his mother suggested he look into the U.S. Air Force. After meeting with the recruiter, he was impressed by the travel and life opportunities the Air Force offered him, he said.

Uncle Sam brought Lewis to Duluth six years ago to work with the ROTC at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

“I had an assignment in Belgium and from Belgium, they said, ‘You want to go back stateside?’ I said yes. ‘Want to go work at a university?’ I said yes because I love helping people. They said Minnesota. I’m like OK, St. Paul, you know, Minneapolis, I could make that work for me. They’re like, ‘No, look up on the map. Duluth.’ I’m like, Duluth? Who’s in Duluth? ‘You’ll be there.’ All right, cool, yeah,” he said.

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