Armatus Reintegration Program celebrates four members

Michelle Wulfson | The ItemAmos Savell, Rick Pritchard, Brandon Johnson, Timothy LaCombe and Christopher LaCombe celebrated surpassing the first milestone in the Armatus Reintegration Program on Friday. The non-profit aims to help struggling justice-involved veterans and community members find their footing for a better life.

The Armatus Reintegration Program is back on track to help struggling veterans and members of the community find their places in the world after nearly having to shutter the non-profit, due to a lack of funding.

Family, friends and the Eastex Detachment of the Marine Corps League gathered at the Armatus Reintegration Program offices off of 11th Street on Friday morning to recognize the life-changing accomplishment of four local men.

United States Marine Corps veterans Amos Savell and Brandon Johnson, along with National Guard veteran Timothy LaCombe and his son, Christopher LaCombe, celebrated their first big accomplishment, as they graduated through Milestone One of the Armatus Reintegration Program.

“It’s been rewarding to see the growth in them and to have the comfort of knowing that there’s a team being built,” said Amos Savell, team lead and director of operations at Armatus Reintegration Program.

Following a highly decorated career serving in the United States Marine Corps as a Force Reconnaissance Marine and later as a Special Programs Paramilitary Operator with Other Government Agency, Savell began a new chapter of his life in 2018 after losing several friends to suicide and PTSD related deaths. After spending two years lending his efforts to help his fellow veterans overcome their traumas suffered from war and military service, Savell has joined forces with Armatus Reintegration Program CEO and president Rick Pritchard to move the non-profit into a new direction, while giving back to his hometown community.

“Working with Pritchard to continue developing and improving the Armatus Reintegration Program has been one of the most rewarding adventures of my life. To be able to help my fellow brothers and give back to the community on a local level after so many years of service overseas has redefined my idea of a rewarding life,” Savell said.

Armatus is a year-long faith-based mission utilizing the help of psychiatrists, therapists and proper medication to help veterans that have lost their way since their service, find their path back into society.

Previously partnering solely with the Texas Department of Correctional Justice to help rehabilitate incarcerated veterans, the reintegration program has now expanded its recruitment to the community to reach any justice-involved veterans in need of a second chance.

“I started realizing that we have a lot of veterans that were justice-involved veterans, but now they’ve been out for a while, they’re still struggling, so we have expanded it to any veteran out there that needs any distress help,” Pritchard said.

It’s a preventative step to lower the population of veterans that make up 10% of prisoners in the United States, offering a helping hand to veterans like Johnson, who have been in and out of jail, and with time, would have likely been destined for prison.

Johnson, a Combat Special Forces Marine veteran, has struggled with PTSD , mental health issues and substance abuse since his years of service. Through counseling therapy sessions offered through the program, Johnson has experienced the positive effects of the curriculum.

“Through these sessions, along with a strong religious foundation, I have been able to get myself to place that I have not been in years. I have become a leader in this program, active in my family’s life and actually able to hold on to relationships, none of which I could do successfully in the past,” Johnson said. He has also been able to maintain seven months of sobriety through the structure and discipline of Armatus.

Additionally, non-veterans that are serious about making a change for the better have recently been welcomed to the program and will account for 20 percent of their clientele, starting with fellow Milestone One graduate, Christopher.

“The philosophy is that we’re veterans and we’ve served our country, but we went in the military to protect the country, and we also have people that are struggling out there that are not veterans,” Pritchard said, referring to these individuals as ‘street veterans,’ or ‘patriots,’ as Savell would say.

“It helps the guys in the program that are veterans giving back to the community by helping this individual, pulling this person out of the street that’s homeless and showing leadership,” Pritchard said, adding that it helps the veterans get back to their purpose and joy of serving others.

Dorm-style housing in Riverside helps clients focus on their goals, rather than maintaining a roof over their heads, and gives them an environment to focus on military style practice of discipline, structure and camaraderie.

“Guys get better when they’re in that brotherhood and they’re in a family environment, you see an instant improvement when they’re in a healthy, positive, accountable environment,” Savell said.

It’s a space that has helped father-son duo Timothy and Christopher find anchors in each other after a lifetime apart. Just one-month ago, Christopher joined the program after calling for his father’s help. Now, he’s on track to become a leader for non-veterans joining Armatus and is set to graduate from the program in January.

“It was the best decision I think I’ve made in my life, because I’ve hit the ground running in this program and I feel loved, I feel at home, I feel welcome, I feel like I’ve got a family here,” Christopher said, adding that he hopes to gain his GED in the future and hopes to become a licensed chemical dependency counselor to continue helping individuals facing the same struggles as himself.

“Christopher keeps us going, he keeps us excited, there’s a whole world of knowledge that he has access to now,” Savell said. “His enthusiasm is contagious, so it’s serving us just as much, and it’s also making the veterans work even harder.”

Now one step closer to full graduation from the program, Savell, Johnson, Christopher and Timothy are set for leadership roles within the program, paving the way for new clients and creating a stronger community for all. 

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