AVON — Upon answering a call for help online from a fellow veteran, U.S. Marine veteran Justin Cogswell, started a movement that would change the lives of many veterans.
Operation Build Up was born three years ago after answering an online ad about a car needing repairs. Now, Cogswell’s mission is to save as many lives as he can.
From its humble beginnings in Cogswell’s garage, to an old garage in Conesus, and finally thanks to the Facebook Watch Series “Returning the Favor” with host Mike Rowe, Operation Build Up has a fine facility in Avon.
In March 2018 the “Returning the Favor” crew put together the warehouse for Cogswell and his 30 volunteers as a way to help the non-for-profit company get the help they needed to keep this mission going strong.
Operation Build Up Chief Executive Cogswell spends his time refurbishing old vehicles and gifting them to local veterans in need of transportation. His aim is to help veterans assimilate into civilian life. A veteran himself, Cogswell knows the kind of help they need and he is willing to do anything he can to reduce the veteran suicide and homelessness rate in America.
Rowe’s generous gift has been a huge blessing to all of Western New York, as Cogswell continues touching the hearts and souls of veterans who struggle to survive.
Genesee Country Express sat down with Cogswell to hear about the impact a few civilians and veterans are having on the community.
“We started out buying cheap cars and fixing them up to surprise veterans,” Cogswell said. “I saw an ad about a returning Marine who had his engine blow out, and was evicted from his home. He had been bouncing around a few months, and no one had his back. He asked for someone to please help fix his vehicle. I had a few tools and got a $500 car to help fix up. His number had been disconnected, and I emailed him for months without hearing from him.
"To this day I don’t know what happened to that Marine."
This sparked something deep within Cogswell, who realized a strong need for small acts of kindness to light up a seemingly dark world. That story of the fellow U.S. Marine is what started Operation Build Up. It highlights the need to build each other up, and help keep as many veterans off the streets as we can.
The 30 volunteers at Operation Build Up help fix up the cars, and get them ready for the big reveal. Once a family member reaches out about a veteran in need, the team goes to work. The process is demanding but very rewarding as it is a huge surprise to the veteran in need.
There is always a meeting place set up ahead of time with the family member, and once the vehicle is parked and ready to go the veteran is brought to the parking lot. From there, another life has been changed for the better. These vehicles are donated for the most part, and all the paint, some parts, and other materials are coming out of Cogswell’s own pocket.
There are flags on the walls that honor every branch of the military as well as photos placed on the walls of local soldiers who committed suicide.
“The faces of the fallen soldiers on the walls remind us who we are doing this for,” Cogswell said. “We want to reach as many veterans as we can. There are a lot of veterans who come in to help volunteer.”
Cogswell has seven vehicles going out soon that will reach another seven veterans who are in severe need. The vehicles are geared towards each veteran in need. For example, a van would be given to a veteran with a family.
These vehicles come all twisted and broken to the warehouse, and the volunteers turn them into something beautiful. These vehicles look really nice, and are checked twice by a mechanic before given to the veterans.
Operation Build Up relies a lot on donations, and is always in need of vehicles, tools, moderate donations and photos of the fallen soldiers.
“All veterans handle this differently, but all of them are very grateful for what we are doing,” Cogswell said. “Saving lives is priceless. Some of the veterans end up joining our mission. We help all veterans who are in need whether they served in combat or not.”
Cogswell puts the most severe cases first, and calls Post Traumatic Stress Disorder the silent killer amongst those who serve.
“It is very rewarding when you can save a life,” he said. “We get men and women who have served, and they have a hard time coming back. They get their car repossessed, lose their homes, and once that happens they start to question themselves.”
The military style warehouse offers a safe place for veterans to go, and feel like they are continuing with the mission to fight alongside their brothers and sisters in the hardships and trials.
For more about Operation Build Up visit www.operationbuildup.com
To watch the Facebook Watch “Returning the Favor” episode on Cogswell go to https://www.facebook.com/ReturningTheFavor/videos/2130392330565359/
Facebook Watch is available for free on mobile apps across Apple and Android, on desktop, laptop and on TV apps listed here: https://videoapp.fb.com/.