SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Barbers like to talk with you about sports and everyday life, but Josh “Turtle” Oliveira has a much deeper story to tell.
The pushup he’s been churning out this month are not about staying in shape.
It was about a decade ago when the Pawtucket native picked up the buzzer and scissors, after putting down the rifle and gear he carried as a Marine.
“Basically, in a flak jacket, Kevlar and a backpack, I looked like a turtle,” Oliveira said with a grin, when asked how he got his nickname.
Four years in the corps taught Oliveira leadership and duty, and made him physically strong.
But there were some things no one talked about.
“We were the first one in and the last ones out,” Oliveira said. “It was something that was kept in the background. Nobody really is going to show that they’re depressed.”
After he was discharged, the impacts of post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries and depression were revealed in tragedy.
Three of the people he served with would take their own lives.
“Why wasn’t I there for that person a little bit more?” Oliveira asked. “How bad did inside of their mind get to say, ‘Hey I can’t take it anymore?'”
Oliveira would continue his career as a barber, but over the years realized he had his own internal pain to hide.
“I hopped in my car. I did a buck 20 on the highway, hoping to just crash and everything would just disappear,” he said. “I wrapped belts around my neck.”
Oliveira was motivated to get help by his family, soon to include his first child.
“I feel ecstatic. I got a purpose in life,” Oliveira said with a smile.
In November, he enlisted in Mission 22, an organization that helps veterans cope.
The number in the name of the non-profit represents the average daily total of veteran suicides.
Oliveira is committed to do at least 22 pushups a day to raise money and awareness about the issues veterans battle when they come home.
“As I do the pushups, I’m thinking about veterans and how we can help them,” Oliveira said. “We need to raise awareness, help them and let them know we care. PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, depression. They need our help.”