HANFORD — Justin Bond walked into the Our Heroes’ Dreams office Friday morning at the Hanford Train Station with bloodshot eyes; he had just spent the entire night talking to a veteran who was having thoughts of committing suicide.
Bond got no sleep that night — it’s actually a pretty common occurrence in his line of work. He said he spends at least three nights a week with little to no sleep while talking to veterans. He and his team received seven calls Thursday night going into Friday morning, but because they only had five people working, it was a long night for them all.
Bond’s tireless efforts to help the veteran community are the reason he was picked by Assemblymember Rudy Salas as this year’s Veteran of the Year.
“We could never fully repay the debt of gratitude owed to our veterans,” Salas said in a released statement. “Sgt. Justin Warren Bond continues to go above and beyond to make a difference in our community, 20 years after he first began serving in the United States Army. It’s my honor to recognize him as Veteran of the Year for his continued service and tireless advocacy on behalf of the veteran community.”
Bond has received many awards in the past few years for his efforts to help veterans, and said he felt extremely honored to get this award from Salas. As opposed to being just another political award, Bond said Salas took time out of his day to talk with Bond and showed that he really did care about the needs of veterans.
“Service and sacrifice for country is something I do without the expectation of praise, but I was very proud to stand alongside other California veterans to celebrate this special ceremony,” Bond said.
Bond, 40, was born and raised in Hanford. He joined the Army at 18 years old, but was let out early before deploying to Bosnia due to three consecutive deaths in his family happening within the span of two weeks.
After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Bond joined up with a National Guard Unit out of Fresno that was deploying. On April 9, 2004, — Good Friday — Bond was shot through the center of both knees in the First Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He lost most of his left leg due to the injury he sustained.
After returning home, he said he sat on the couch and self-medicated, but soon realized something needed to be done after 11 of his military friends committed suicide. It’s a widely-known fact among the veteran community that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
“Suicide is our biggest killer to our men and women coming home — and it’s taboo,” Bond said. “Nobody wants to deal with it. They look at it on the news, but nobody knows how to fix it.”
Bond started fundraising to help fellow veterans by bowling 1,000 games non-stop, taking just shy of four days. He also collected 3.5 million books and board games to send to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But more needed to be done, he said, so Bond formed Our Heroes’ Dreams, a nonprofit veteran-run organization with the goal to help veterans and their families in their time of need, with whatever they need.
The organization strives to be the one-stop-shop to help veterans by giving them all forms of counseling, financial aid and any other assistance; ultimately lowering the suicide rate by helping them find a new mission in life and a reason to get out of the house.
For Our Heroes’ Dreams, Bond rode a Segway from Monterey to Jacksonville Fla. at 12 mph, taking 60 days. He also completed a 2,200-mile Zoom chair ride from Canada to Mexico last year to raise awareness for veteran suicides.
With Our Heroes’ Dreams, veterans can go on “healing retreats,” and the organization provides the necessary resources to fix things that need to be fixed in the veteran’s life, whether that is car repairs, home repairs or new furniture. Whatever they need, they get at no cost.
Bond said the organization works because volunteers understand what the veterans are going through. No one can understand post-traumatic stress disorder like a veteran, and veterans are able to talk more openly about their struggles with someone who has gone through the same struggle, he said.
The entire organization has a domino effect: it helps veterans get on their feet and find a mission, and in turn, those veterans help other veterans get on their feet and find a mission in life. Bond said in four years, the organization has been 100 percent successful in getting veterans off of suicide watch.
“That drives me to keep going,” Bond said, adding at least 45 people volunteer at Our Heroes’ Dreams who were once struggling.
Jake Gorba, an Army veteran and volunteer at Our Heroes’ Dreams, has known Bond for almost a year. He said what makes Bond not only a good veteran, but also a good person, is his selflessness.
Plain and simple, Gorba said Bond puts everyone else before himself and has created an organization where veterans help veterans.
In fact, Bond’s display of selflessness can be seen right now. Gorba said not even a week after having surgery on his leg, Bond was back at the Our Heroes’ Dreams office, walking with crutches because he can’t use his artificial leg for another few months.
“He’s not going to be told to sit and rest,” Gorba said of Bond.
There are countless stories of Our Heroes’ Dreams helping veterans. The organization is in the process of building a new, disabled-accessible bathroom in the home of a local Vietnam veteran. Bond said it’s going well so far, they just need some concrete donated to finish part of the job.
Bond married his wife, Laurel, in 2005 and they have a son and two daughters. He said his family are “troopers” and help out with different events. Before Our Heroes’ Dreams started renting its new office space at the train station from the city for $1 a month, Bond actually ran the organization from his home.
Bond and his wife just recently got back from a trip to Dallas, where Bond was recognized by President George W. Bush in his book, “Portraits of Courage.” The book is a collection of oil paintings done by Bush to honor the sacrifice and courage of military veterans. The portraits will be kept in Bush’s presidential library in Texas.
Bond shows no signs of slowing down from his seven-day-a-week job. He has new programs in the works, including a national warrior board with a digital toolbox of resources, a full-time veterans’ camp and a Women Warriors program for female veterans, spouses or mothers.
“There’s nobody doing just quite what we’re doing,” Bond said.