Orlando canine handler tosses bobber to military veterans at risk of suicide

Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Michael Johns photo with dog

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was responsible for more than 48,000 deaths in 2018. That’s about one death every 11 minutes. In 2018, 10.7 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.3 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted suicide.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and a canine handler at Florida’s Orlando International Airport is on the frontline trying to lower those numbers.

Michael Johns started a nonprofit called FX3. FX3 stands for fishing family forever and gives military veterans an outlet using the outdoors to help them deal with day-to-day mental stress.  The stress often comes from serving our country in war-torn countries or from other traumatic events.

Johns said one of the tragic events in his life that motivated him to start FX3 was the death of his brother in Iraq in 2014. His brother was a contractor.

“He was my outlet, who I could call when I was having a bad day,” said Johns. “After losing him, I felt alone, just like after returning from war. I don’t want any veteran to feel alone or that they can’t talk about the problems they feel.”

A few years after losing his brother, Johns lost his best friend to suicide.

Michael Johns picture

“I couldn’t believe it and still reread a text I saved looking for a sign that he needed help, but I never find any,” Johns said. “I don’t want anyone to go through this. That motivates me to continue at all cost to end this epidemic that is plaguing our community of veterans.”

FX3 is a safe outdoors refuge for Orlando area veterans.

“Whether it’s a day on the water fishing, a day just hanging out and talking, I feel just being there sometimes, some veterans just want to talk to someone, and we are that someone always willing to listen,” said Johns.

Johns said fishing saved his life. “I was once almost a statistic. I was in a dark place some years ago, and if it had not been for divine intervention from another veteran, I would not be here to do the work of FX3. I was taken on the water. We chatted, and I noticed how it was so peaceful. There wasn’t traffic noise, no one talking, no crowds. I was told to take a deep breath and just enjoy nature. After chatting with this veteran and returning home, I felt a mental clarity like never before. Then it hit me! Why not have an organization that takes veterans out at no costs and shows them this type of peace.”

Johns teaches veterans how to fish and shows techniques of catching fish while sharing his story of how this outdoor hobby contributed to changing his life.

“We’ve had veterans talk about traumatic events from seeing their best friend shot just feet away to being [sexually assaulted] while overseas,” said Johns. “We approach them by just being there. We’ve had veterans tell us after our day on the water, they went home feeling refreshed. We had a double amputee we took out who was an introvert to the point he wouldn’t leave his house. I received a call from him one day after he just found out his wife was pregnant. A day on the water may have changed his perspective. I didn’t wave a magic wand. I didn’t promise him everything was going to be okay. He said what mattered most was I was there. I showed him he wasn’t alone.”

Johns believes we can all work together to help prevent suicide.

“Most of the time, you’ll never see the signs until it’s too late,” he said. “You don’t have to be a veteran. You’re not alone. There’s always someone who will listen.”