The Objective Zero Story

In the fall of 2014, Justin Miller was struggling with the transition out of the military. Medically retired after serving 12 years as an infantry soldier, Justin was dealing with medical issues including post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. After several nights of getting only a few hours of sleep due to nightmares, he reached his breaking point and was ready to take his life. The only thing that stopped him was that he didn't want to wake his wife by loading his weapon. He reached out for help and couldn't get an appointment for 2 days. Within a matter of minutes of hanging up the phone, Chris Mercado, his former PL, called Justin to see how he was doing, as Chris recognized signs on social media that Justin was struggling. The pair spoke on the phone overnight, with Chris simply listening to Justin. This 6+ hour phone call would change both of their lives and sparked the idea that the simple act of listening can save the lives of veterans.


Founders

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After the call between Chris and Justin, they assembled a team to help them launch the Objective Zero Foundation. In addition to Chris and Justin, this team included Ryan Pereira, Blake Bassett, Kayla Bassett, Betsey Mercado, and Amy Eastman.

In addition to countless hours of volunteer service, each of these co-founders contributed immensely to the development and launch of the Objective Zero mobile application.


Executive Staff

  BETSEY MERCADO  Co-Founder, Executive Director  Betsey Mercado became involved in Objective Zero after seeing the positive influence that intervention had on veterans in crisis. Betsey has committed herself to making a difference in the lives of Soldiers, veterans, and their families. Her experience working with military spouses and leading multiple Family Readiness Groups supporting active duty units gives her a unique perspective that she brings to the Objective Zero team. She volunteers her time to assist with development of the Objective Zero mobile app, maintain the website, and manage Objective Zero’s administration. Betsey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration.

BETSEY MERCADO
Co-Founder, Executive Director

Betsey Mercado became involved in Objective Zero after seeing the positive influence that intervention had on veterans in crisis. Betsey has committed herself to making a difference in the lives of Soldiers, veterans, and their families. Her experience working with military spouses and leading multiple Family Readiness Groups supporting active duty units gives her a unique perspective that she brings to the Objective Zero team. She volunteers her time to assist with development of the Objective Zero mobile app, maintain the website, and manage Objective Zero’s administration. Betsey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration.

  JUSTIN MILLER  Co-Founder, Deputy Executive Director  Justin Miller is the major inspiration behind Objective Zero. Originally from Wheeling, West Virginia, Justin enlisted as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in April of 2003 and served for 11 years, deploying twice to Iraq. Justin served as a rifleman with the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, was an infantry scout and sniper team leader with the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, and was a infantry squad leader with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Justin also served as a military recruiter in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He has an Associate of Arts from Columbia Southern University.

JUSTIN MILLER
Co-Founder, Deputy Executive Director

Justin Miller is the major inspiration behind Objective Zero. Originally from Wheeling, West Virginia, Justin enlisted as an infantryman in the U.S. Army in April of 2003 and served for 11 years, deploying twice to Iraq. Justin served as a rifleman with the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, was an infantry scout and sniper team leader with the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, and was a infantry squad leader with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment at Fort Stewart, Georgia. Justin also served as a military recruiter in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He has an Associate of Arts from Columbia Southern University.

  CHRIS MERCADO  Co-Founder, Operations and Partnership Director  Chris Mercado is an active duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army. Over the years Chris has lost several of his peers and former soldiers to suicide. Chris was inspired to act by telling Justin Miller’s story and observing the difference it made in Justin’s life. He is a General Wayne A. Downing Scholar of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and completed his Master of Arts at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where he studied terrorism and sub-state violence. He is a military fellow of the College of William and Mary and a former national security fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

CHRIS MERCADO
Co-Founder, Operations and Partnership Director

Chris Mercado is an active duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army. Over the years Chris has lost several of his peers and former soldiers to suicide. Chris was inspired to act by telling Justin Miller’s story and observing the difference it made in Justin’s life. He is a General Wayne A. Downing Scholar of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and completed his Master of Arts at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service where he studied terrorism and sub-state violence. He is a military fellow of the College of William and Mary and a former national security fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

  AMY G. EASTMAN  Co-Founder, Fundraising Consultant  Amy Eastman received her M.A. from the Georgetown Security Studies Program. Amy brings her background in nonprofits to the Objective Zero team, having previously worked at Equal Rights Advocates and Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases.  Please contact amy@objectivezero.org if you would like to discuss how you can support Objective Zero.

AMY G. EASTMAN
Co-Founder, Fundraising Consultant

Amy Eastman received her M.A. from the Georgetown Security Studies Program. Amy brings her background in nonprofits to the Objective Zero team, having previously worked at Equal Rights Advocates and Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases.

Please contact amy@objectivezero.org if you would like to discuss how you can support Objective Zero.

  TYSON WALSH  Operations, Research, and Development  Tyson Walsh is an active duty Operations Research (FA 49) officer in the U.S. Army. During his tenure in the military, Tyson has seen his fair share of close calls involving veterans and suicides, and decided to pursue a solution en masse by using his background in STEM. He is a US Merchant Marine Academy graduate and has since gone on to earn his Masters of Science in Applied Mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is currently serving in the USMA West Point Department of Mathematics as an Instructor.

TYSON WALSH
Operations, Research, and Development

Tyson Walsh is an active duty Operations Research (FA 49) officer in the U.S. Army. During his tenure in the military, Tyson has seen his fair share of close calls involving veterans and suicides, and decided to pursue a solution en masse by using his background in STEM. He is a US Merchant Marine Academy graduate and has since gone on to earn his Masters of Science in Applied Mathematics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is currently serving in the USMA West Point Department of Mathematics as an Instructor.

  Luca Ventura   Chief Technology Officer  Luca Ventura is a Mobile Software Engineer with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Mobile Application Development from Full Sail University. Luca bring a wealth of technical expertise to assist in Objective Zero’s mission of bringing suicide prevention tools to those in need through technology. Luca’s long-standing passion for solving real world problems that impact people’s lives through technology aligns with the core values of Objective Zero. Luca learned about Objective Zero through a serendipitous chain of events, starting with being childhood friends with one of Justin’s brothers. After learning about Justin’s story and the Objective Zero mission, Luca felt called to utilize his education and experience to join the team on this important life changing mission known as Objective Zero.

Luca Ventura

Chief Technology Officer

Luca Ventura is a Mobile Software Engineer with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Mobile Application Development from Full Sail University. Luca bring a wealth of technical expertise to assist in Objective Zero’s mission of bringing suicide prevention tools to those in need through technology. Luca’s long-standing passion for solving real world problems that impact people’s lives through technology aligns with the core values of Objective Zero. Luca learned about Objective Zero through a serendipitous chain of events, starting with being childhood friends with one of Justin’s brothers. After learning about Justin’s story and the Objective Zero mission, Luca felt called to utilize his education and experience to join the team on this important life changing mission known as Objective Zero.


National Expansion Team

  TIM SORRICK  National Expansion Director  Tim is an MBA candidate at the Rady School of Management - University of California, San Diego. Currently an officer in the US Army Reserves, Tim served 7.5 years on active duty-experiencing the significant and widespread impacts of suicide in the military. After learning about Objective Zero, their passion and innovative approach inspired Tim to assist in growing and expanding the organization.

TIM SORRICK
National Expansion Director

Tim is an MBA candidate at the Rady School of Management - University of California, San Diego. Currently an officer in the US Army Reserves, Tim served 7.5 years on active duty-experiencing the significant and widespread impacts of suicide in the military. After learning about Objective Zero, their passion and innovative approach inspired Tim to assist in growing and expanding the organization.

  JAKE COTTEW  Minnesota State Director  Jake joined Objective Zero in 2016. Previously, he served in the Minnesota National Guard for 11 years, where he served in the Infantry and as a Behavioral Health Specialist and Pharmacy Tech Sergeant. Jake deployed to Iraq in 2009 and Kuwait in 2011. He has also worked for 14 years as a Security Counselor at Minnesota’s Security Hospital.

JAKE COTTEW
Minnesota State Director

Jake joined Objective Zero in 2016. Previously, he served in the Minnesota National Guard for 11 years, where he served in the Infantry and as a Behavioral Health Specialist and Pharmacy Tech Sergeant. Jake deployed to Iraq in 2009 and Kuwait in 2011. He has also worked for 14 years as a Security Counselor at Minnesota’s Security Hospital.


Advisory Board

 
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DR. CRAIG BRYAN
Advisor, Clinical Therapy

Dr. Craig J. Bryan, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified clinical psychologist in cognitive behavioral psychology, and is currently the Executive Director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at The University of Utah. Dr. Bryan received his PsyD in clinical psychology in 2006 from Baylor University, and completed his clinical psychology residency at the Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland Air Force Base, TX. He was retained as faculty in the Department of Psychology at Wilford Hall Medical Center, where he was Chief of the Primary Care Psychology Service, as well as the Suicide Prevention Program Manager for Lackland AFB. Dr. Bryan deployed to Balad, Iraq, in 2009, where he served as the Director of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at the Air Force Theater Hospital. Dr. Bryan separated from active duty service shortly after his deployment, and currently researches suicidal behaviors and suicide prevention strategies, and psychological health and resiliency. He currently manages numerous federally-funded projects in excess of $10 million, to include studies testing cognitive behavioral treatments for suicidal service members, developing innovative methods to identify and detect high-risk military personnel and veterans, and disseminating effective treatments to health care providers and the public. Dr. Bryan has published over 120 scientific articles and several books including Managing Suicide Risk in Primary Care, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Preventing Suicide Attempts: A Guide to Brief Treatments Across Clinical Settings, and the Handbook of Psychosocial Interventions for Veterans and Service Members: A Guide for the Non-Military Mental Health Clinician. He is the lead risk management consultant for the $25 million STRONG STAR Research Consortium and the $45 million Consortium to Alleviate PTSD, which investigates treatments for combat-related PTSD among military personnel, and has served on the Board of Directors of the American Association for Suicidology. He is considered a leading national expert on military and veteran suicide. For his contributions to military mental health and suicide prevention, Dr. Bryan has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Arthur W. Melton Award for Early Career Achievement, the Peter J.N. Linnerooth National Service Award, and the Charles S. Gersoni Military Psychology Award from the American Psychological Association; and the Edwin S Shneidman Award for outstanding contributions to research in suicide from the American Association of Suicidology.

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NAN T. BASSETT
Advisor, Legal Counsel

Nan Bassett is a partner at Kipp & Christian, a law firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Nan’s practice focuses on all aspects of civil litigation, including employment law/Title VII defense, product liability, professional malpractice defense and personal injury. Nan joined Objective Zero's board of advisors in November 2016 and provides legal counsel to the organization. 

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SHAWN MCGARRY
Advisor, Legal Counsel

Shawn McGarry is a partner and the Vice-President of Kipp & Christian, a law firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Since 1988, Mr. McGarry has had an active trial and litigation practice. His experience is extensive in jury trials, bench trials, and binding arbitrations. While Mr. McGarry's practice has an emphasis in defense of health care providers, he handles complex litigation and defends product liability and catastrophic injury cases. Mr. McGarry is an AV peer review rated attorney and has repeatedly been named by his peers as one of the top litigation attorneys in the state of Utah in Utah Business Magazine and Mountain States Super Lawyers. He is also listed in "The Best Lawyers in America."

 
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DUANE K. L. FRANCE, MA, NCC, LPCc
Advisor, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Duane France, MA, NCC, LPCc, is currently serving as the Director of Veteran Services at The Family Care Center, a private mental health counseling agency specializing in the unique needs of military service members, veterans, and their families. He is also the Executive Director of the Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency, a 501(c)3 Nonprofit affiliated with the Family Care Center.  Mr. France is a retired Army Noncommissioned Officer and combat veteran, having served in deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, North Africa, and Bosnia-Herzegovnia. After retirement, he served as Program Director for the Colorado Veterans Resource. In 2015, Mr. France was selected as one of five Military Scholars in the nation by the National Board of Certified Counselors Foundation, and in 2016 was selected as the awardee of the 2016 NBCC Foundation Capacity Building Grant, providing no-cost clinical mental health counseling to veterans in and around El Paso County, Colorado. He also writes for an audience of veterans, their families, and those who support veterans on his website, www.veteranmentalhealth.com. Mr. France is passionate about veteran mental health, and feels strongly that those who have served in the military can continue to provide value to their community long after that service has ended.