A man creates a supportive place for veterans during turmoil in Afghanistan

Reporter: Zach Oliveri Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
In this Aug. 22, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, Afghan passengers board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (MSgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Veterans in Southwest Florida are coming together and supporting one another during the uncertainty and turmoil as the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan.

“One for all and all for one” is becoming a rallying cry for veterans during this time. They, along with the rest of the world, are watching as the chaos unfolds in Afghanistan.

Commander Alexander Leoni is a Marine Corps veteran. “They’re feeling extremely guilty, they’re feeling devastated. As if the efforts that they placed into that timeframe, were for nothing,” Leoni said. 

It’s moments like these that Leoni remembers why he made it his mission to reach out to all veterans regardless of when or where they served.

“Through these tough moments is when we learn the most valuable lessons in life, which are intangible. And they are lessons for us, such as forgiveness, like forgiving yourself for the intense behavior that you are judging yourself for,” said Leoni.

Moments like these are also why he built the Manganni Operational Village right next to his Collier County home. The village is a place where veterans can come together and bond over the similarities of their training.

This is basically the honey to attract the bear, you know, and once we’re here, just being with each other is a therapy,” he said. “You’re literally pulling people out of hell. Their own personal hell that they’re in.”

The reason Leoni started United Manganni Veterans Tribe was to help veterans battle suicide. That cause is personal to him and it’s a battle he knows all too well.

“I went through a suicidal moment myself where, for the undetermined period of time, I was inside of a hole and I felt alone. The only thing that ever saved me was looking at myself in the mirror before making that jump in saying there’s people counting on you,” said Leoni.

Leoni wants all veterans to know that they are not alone. “That right there helps you stay alive because you realize that you’re not the only one in the hole, truly the only person who dies is he who is alone his heart,” he said.

He believes Manganni Opertaionnal Village gives veterans the space to manage their emotions and release pent-up frustration in a healthy way. The group meets once a month and Leoni says he’s even worked with veterans in their seventies.

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