Project Overwatch was founded to create a resource and support system for law enforcement officers. Retired Army Ranger Master Sgt. Jamahl Labbe started the nonprofit in 2015 after the Ferguson, Missouri, riots and the subsequent riots in Baltimore, Maryland. The impact that those events had on Labbe as well as the recognition of core issues between the military and law enforcement communities laid the foundation for Project Overwatch.
“I believe there is a lot of connective tissue between the veteran and officer service to country and community,” Labbe said. “We ‘support and defend’ and they ‘protect and serve.’ Bringing the two communities together seemed like an obvious thing to do.”
Marcy Hehnly, another Army veteran, joined Project Overwatch as the western region director after meeting Labbe through a mutual first responder friend.
“I came into the picture because I do a lot of community outreach,” Hehnly said. “Because I was an Army veteran and a police officer, I kind of fulfilled these two key demographics of our audience.”
Hehnly’s biggest undertaking with Project Overwatch has been their LIFE retreat for female first responders. The pillars of the retreat — lift, inspire, focus, and empower — are also the foundation for the peer support program that she hopes to install in each area where the organization hosts a LIFE retreat. With only 6% of the firefighting force being female and 13% of the law enforcement population made up of women nationally, the female first responder network is small and stretched thin.
“Nationally, most of the peer support programs that are created aren’t blended among agencies, so the hope with our program is to give people someone outside their immediate agency to speak with so that you can speak with a clear conscience and no fear of retaliation,” Hehnly said. “The LIFE retreat is the beginning of that network for these women, and the goal is to have the cohorts become the volunteers for future events.”
“Project Overwatch is a very grassroots-level organization. We don’t keep any funding, so sometimes we go into projects on a prayer,” Hehnly explained. “With the LIFE retreat, we just had to make sure that we had funding for the basics; we’re not trying to make money off of this work. Every penny we make goes to the particular event, and none of us get paid. Some nonprofits want to make money, but that’s not our goal.”
“The veterans’ role in this Project Overwatch is showing the public that we are not victims,” Labbe stated. “We will use our favorable momentum to defend others who sacrifice for their communities and aid charitable causes. I think that service to our country and community should not end with our military careers. I believe this service is every American’s lifelong obligation.”
Photo courtesy of Project Overwatch.
The BRCC Fund’s $4,000 donation will go to serve Project Overwatch’s 2023 LIFE retreat. Next year’s retreat will offer cohorts in both Utah and Georgia and will work toward setting up peer support systems in both those areas.
To learn more about Project Overwatch, donate to the cause, or find a way to support locally, head to the website here.