Mike Sandone

By Paul Wood

Photo By Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

URBANA — About 22 military veterans commit suicide every day.

Marine Sgt. Mike Sandone, 40, is a physical fitness expert with a Marine background who cares about veterans who have taken their own lives.

One of those lost was Sandone’s friend, who took his life a few days ago.

Sandone said he has now lost 28 of his combat friends to suicide, and he is trying to raise money for a charity, Mission 22.

His fundraising goal of $2,400 was met early on for the 24/24 Freedom Challenge.

Last week, Sandone completed 24 “CrossFit hero workouts” in 24 hours, and the total that he will donate to Mission 22 is now more than $4,000.

Mission 22 provides treatment programs to veterans for PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other issues they might be facing.

It organizes events and builds memorials to create social impact and awareness for these issues.

A 1996 graduate of Urbana High School, where he was on the football team, Sandone went to college for a while, but decided on an effort in the Marines for “discipline and adventure.”

He was selected as a machine gunner.

Sandone’s first overseas deployment was after the USS Cole was bombed in Aden in 2000 while it was being refueled, leaving a gaping hole in its side.

In the bombing, 17 American sailors were killed and 39 were injured.

“My machine gun position was right above the hole,” Sandone said.

After he came home in 2002, Sandone was then sent to Failaka Island, off the coast of Kuwait City.

Jihadists ambushed Marines on a training exercise on Failaka Island. A Marine was killed by the attackers, who then lost their own lives.

According to The New York Times, that helped lead to a decision to increase the scope of military activities in the region.

“It seemed likely we were going into Iraq,” Sandone said.

And they did, after a stay at Camp Pendleton.

There were many gunfights in Baghdad, Sandone said, calling it “terrifying and exhilarating.”

Sandone led a company of machine gunners. His own weapon was an M-240 he always carried. At about 26 pounds, lifting it helped prepare him for CrossFit.

Sandone also served in Sadr City, aka Saddam City, a stronghold of the Iraqi Communist Party.

The Marine received a mixed welcome there — friendly at times, the victim of potshots others.

There was always a unit out past the safety wire, Sandone said, and as squad leader he often led a team of six into danger.

“I didn’t lose any of my men,” he said.

The Marines were relieved, sent to southern Iraq, then home.

It was time for Sandone to move on from the Marines — he’d stayed on past his original assignment as a “stop-loss” serviceman.

After a little more education, he “chose money or school” and worked in sales before getting into the gym business. (He works at Plastipak).

One gym failed. “I learned there to keep the overhead down,” he said.

Sandone, who is heavily muscled, said CrossFit changed his workout from running and weight work to a larger group of exercises.

“I wasn’t physically fit before,” he said. “I look a certain way because I work out and eat right,” mostly plant food.

He has a wife and two children.

Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at pwood@news-gazette.com.