Sergeant Howard served with the U.S. Marine Corps. Over eight years, he spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Every single day you were going to work, and you were surrounded by people that can relate to you," he said. "But then you get out and you lose your mission, you lose your sense of purpose, and then, you're just lost."
Howard has walked down his own dark path before finding the light. He conquered addiction and has been sober for four years. And even though he still battles the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, he does not do it alone.
"The joke at my house is that he's a four-legged human," said Howard about his service dog, Cooper.
Howard received his dog at no cost from Alpha Bravo Canine, a Philadelphia-based service that trains and donates pups to veterans in need. Since then, his life has changed in every way imaginable.
"The first nightmare I had where this dog came up and woke me up out of it... it's the same bond that I have with my brothers that I served with, even more so because he's there every day," he added.
Shortly after becoming best friends with Cooper, Howard decided to make social media videos to spread the word to other veterans. He thought his short productions might reach a few people in the local community. He was wrong.
"One thing that I always try to do is create a community," he said. "And luckily, I fell into one on TikTok."
Under the name, @coop_n_mike, Howard's raw and emotional videos have garnered more than two million likes and over 240,000 followers. His biography reads, "22 A Day; NO MORE!"
"I say all the time in my videos, there's nothing special about me to get out of the hole I was in," he said. "I just realized I have one life. I have brothers and sisters who gave theirs that didn't get the choice. I have the choice."
Howard exercises that choice by making visits to the Delaware County Veterans Memorial. First dedicated in 2013, the solemn site recognizes fallen members of the county community who served with the United States military.
"I come here literally daily," he said, "First and foremost to reflect but to shoot beautiful content that touches the people I'm trying to reach."
"22 a Day" is the a generally accepted estimate of how many veterans lose their lives to suicide each day. It has become a fundraising effort by the Til Valhalla project, which sells apparel with the intention of raising money to reduce veteran suicide. They deliver memorial plaques to Gold Star families. Howard, who is one of their brand ambassadors, has no plans to stop making videos until the number 22 becomes zero.
"This generation of veterans is going to save each other. Nobody else is going to do it for us," he said. "If we want our brothers and sisters to stop ending up in boxes, we have to do it. We have to fight."
To learn more about Mike Howard and Cooper's adventures, follow them on social media @coop_n_mike. Click here to find a list of resources for veterans in the Philadelphia area.
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