Local Army Veteran Founds Operation Combat Bikesaver
Writer / Julie Yates
The purpose of many 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations is solely to raise awareness of a condition or situation. Operation Combat Bikesaver, INC. (OCB) in Crown Point goes beyond that starting point. Its mission is to provide veterans dealing with mental issues the ability to adjust to life after military service.
Founded by Army veteran Jason Zaideman, OCB is a program through which motorcycles in disrepair are given a new life by participants. The atmosphere in the workshop is one where veterans feel camaraderie, and also the ability to express themselves without judgement. All the motorcycles are donated. Once one is repaired and running, the individual who worked on it is free to keep it or donate it elsewhere.
“I was an engineer in the Army,” Zaideman says. “It was my job to solve problems. I saw many other organizations out there that raised a lot of money, but they really weren’t doing anything. I don’t know of any other nonprofit like ours that is actually doing something to help veterans deal with mental health issues, and ease their adjustment to life outside the military.”
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, research has shown that up to one in every five veterans experiences post-traumatic stress disorder. Many are also dealing with traumatic brain injuries, depression and anxiety. In 2020, deaths by suicide for military service members and veterans increased by 25%. OCB provides a safe place for struggling vets as they adjust to civilian life.
Vets pick out a bike and map out what needs to be done. A spirit of community is developed, as all the participants help each other as problems come up. No prior knowledge is necessary, and new skills are learned in each session. Working toward a goal and achieving success during each weekly workshop session transfers over to everyday life.
“One vet was aimless and couldn’t seem to get any direction in his life,” Zaideman says. “He was living back home and doing nothing. He got in the program and was able express his pent-up feelings with others who understood. He went on to get a college degree and now has a good job.”
Any kind of broken-down, motorized vehicle can be brought back to life in the workshop. Donations of old cars, trucks, boats and RVs are accepted. Tools are always needed, and parts can be harvested on anything that might be deemed truly unfixable.
The program is run entirely on donations, which can be made via the OCB website. The site also has a link to an Amazon Wish List, where needed tools and parts can be purchased. In addition, visitors to the website can also find links to donate to the OCB Veteran Cancer Support Program, and the Blaster Program, which provides reliable transportation and home improvements for veterans.
In 2017, and again in 2019, the organization was featured on Facebook Watch, in Mike Rowe’s show, “Returning the Favor.” The exposure caught the attention of others who realized the need for programs that yield results. Ultimately, inspired individuals were led to open OCB chapters in California and Alabama.
OCB has community support, but continues to need backing and funding. Area high schools such as Lake Central and Lowell have held fundraising activities to benefit the program. Zaideman is also available for appearances at events to explain the program. Volunteers can always be used for clerical duties, and to help in raising funds by retailing merchandise such as hats and T-shirts.
“Within a few minutes of meeting someone, I can tell if they are a veteran,” Zaideman says. “It’s the way they act and the lingo they talk. There is very little, if any, support for people once they get out of the military. OCB is here to provide help.”
Operation Combat Bikesaver is located at 1670 East North Street in Crown Point. Visit combatbikesaver.org, or call 219-323-3940 (Sundays only), for more info.