Full Transcript is Below:
– Welcome to our August NFM Salute! I’m NFM TV’s Greg Sher. I have been looking forward to this Salute for so long. Now, it’s been months since I bumped into Gretchen Smith. She is the founder of Code of Vets and a former Air Force Veteran. It’s really a pleasure to have you on. Cannot wait to talk about your service and about your non-profit Code of Vets. You’re touching so many Veterans, Gretchen. Thank you for being with us on NFM TV.
– Thank you, Greg. It’s an honor to be here with you.
– So happy to have you. Let’s first talk about your experience as an Air Force Veteran. You were deployed for three and a half years in Germany. What can you tell us about those times?
– Well, it was amazing. I was over Ramstein Air Base. That’s where I met my husband. It’s where I served my country overseas. They just gave me a great foundation. I evolved into a young woman there. The Air Force just instilled all the traits that I needed for successful life. And to be part of this greatest nation on earth and to have served for it is such an honor.
– And you had an influence in terms of military. You have a legacy of family members including your father, Danny E. Smiley, who served in Vietnam on two tours. Unfortunately, he passed away at the young age of 57, which was the impetus not only for you getting into the military, but also for Code of Vets. Talk about how those two are connected.
– Oh, yeah. Dad was a combat veteran, served two tours and he came back a different person, just a shattered spirit. His chaotic behavior on the outside was a direct reflection of how we felt on the inside. We reached out to dad. We talked to him, but in the end, we lost our dad to his battle with PTSD. And one of my last conversations, is the inspiration of Code of Vets. I sat down with him and we both were in tears and I just said, “Dad, we need you. Your grandkids need you.” And he just looked at me with big tears in his eyes and he said, “Gretchen, I’m done. I’m tired. They’ve won. I’m ready to go home.” And those words really resonated with me. They’ve been in my soul and I’ll carry them until the day I die. And dad died in a tragic way and I just wanted to turn that tragedy into something powerful, into something good. I wanted to create a legacy for my dad. And so, thus, Code of Vets was born.
– And the bedrock of what you do at Code of Vets is to help out Veterans in need with donations somewhere in the ballpark of a thousand dollars and you are a 100% social media based. Tell us about those parameters.
– [Gretchen] We’re the one and only social media, 100% driven Veteran organization out there. We’re forging a new path. It’s unique. I’m so proud of it. I started the Twitter page to honor dad and Code of Vets was just this name that came to me and I just resonated with me and my spirit and it just took off. I brought in a partner, Dr. Cindy Walter, who vets our Veterans. We direct them to our website. They fill out a Vet in Need form. She vets the Veteran and the needs that they have. And generally, we will help with one month’s worth of bills just to kind of get them stable a little bit, to give them little breathing room. It stopped gap assistance until they can find some long-term stability. We helped them behind the scenes with that as well. We provide case management until they find their stability. So we’re not just an ATM. We are giving out funds, but there is a purpose. And there’s a plan in place. That’s the real purpose of Code of Vets is to make a real difference in their life in their moment of need when they have no hope, when they’re in the situation where they don’t see a way out.
– How many Veterans have you been able to lend a hand to since you launched Code of Vet some four plus years ago?
– We’ve surpassed over 3,000. But in other ways, we’ve done claims benefits, gotten them rides to their doctor’s appointments, to the VA. I would probably say somewhere in the neighborhood, 7 to 8,000 we’ve touched.
– What really got me and grabbed my attention aside from the heartwarming thank you messages that I follow all over Code of Vets on Twitter, which is @codeofvets and also codeofvets.com and all the great social media you do is the lengths that you go to to be transparent about your financials. Oftentimes, when people give money to a cause, they have no idea where the funds go, but you have it all laid out on your website neatly. And you also only use two cents of every dollar donated for your operating budget, a very thin budget. But I know it’s important to you to use as much of this money as you can. Tell us why.
– 2%. I’m proud to tout that. It’s hard work. We do a lot of work behind the scenes to keep that shoestring budget in place and it’s doable. But again, it takes all of our time and attention. Not only is this the mission for us, but this is a ministry. It’s a passion. It’s a personal journey of healing for my heart.
– That’s incredible and so moving. I know though that it also takes its toll. Having talked to you and gotten to know you that you carry the weight of so much on your shoulders. And recently, you kinda reached a breaking point of sorts where you needed to take a step back and get yourself healthy to be able to continue your mission. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
– Yeah. Running Code of Vets everyday, it’s a challenge. We deal with life and death issues everyday,
– suicides, funerals, Veterans who are living in cars, under bridges. And I did hit one of those walls and had one of those moments recently and I just had to step back. I had to scale way back. I had to take time for me. I met with my mentor. I went and spent some time with my family. I just needed to refill my heart, soul, and spirit in order for me to continue to be able to give back to the Veterans everyday.
– Well, people have their own ways of coping and trying to recharge. Probably, the last thing I would do to recharge is jump out of an airplane. But you, on the other hand, we’re watching footage of you right now doing just that. Was that part of that healing process and what was it like to jump out of a plane?
– There’s no words to describe that feeling when you jump out of a plane at 12,500 feet free falling, a 144 miles an hour . It really was a great moment for me. I was able to connect with dad ’cause dad was airborne and I was able to scream out, “I love you, dad.” “I miss you.” And it just that had that moment and I felt his presence with me, his spirit, and I knew he was proud.
– How can those that wanna help Code of Vets assist in this great mission of yours?
– Your retweets, your re-shares. Getting us out there brings in more donors, raises awareness so that we’re able to assist more Veterans.
– Well, what an honor it was for us to spend some time with you to hear more about what you’re doing to understand the legacy of your dad and exactly what is behind this great work that you’re doing. Gretchen Smith, thanks for being our August NFM Salute here on NFM TV.
– Thank you, Greg. It’s been an honor.
– I’m Greg Sher. We’ll see you again next time.