Veteran Phil Mockler remembers learning about a young man from Venice who’d been medically discharged from the military because he was losing his vision. “I saw on Facebook that he’d given up his driver’s license because he couldn’t see,” he says. “Imagine being a 22-year-old and not being able to drive. But he still wanted to go to college.”
Mockler, 39, founded Everyday Heroes USA for just such a scenario: to support military and first responders, who he calls “the brotherhood and sisterhood of those who put their life on the line every day.” For the next three years, Everyday Heroes volunteers drove the young veteran to and from the USF Sarasota- Manatee campus, until he graduated.
Mockler, who grew up in south Sarasota County, joined the Marines out of high school, “because they had the reputation of being the best, and that’s what I wanted to go after,” he says. He served for four years, including a tour in Iraq, and then served four more years with the Army, including a year in Afghanistan.
After his military service, he became a Sarasota County sheriff’s deputy, but he hated seeing veterans struggling. “Guys and gals coming back weren’t getting the care they needed,” he says. In addition to providing transportation, his all-volunteer group builds wheelchair ramps, delivers meals and otherwise coordinates contributions from local businesses. In 2014, Everyday Heroes joined forces with My Warriors Place, a five-acre waterfront retreat and counseling center in Ruskin for veterans, first responders and their families.
In honor of Veterans Day this year, they’re partnering with the Atlanta Braves to host the Everyday Heroes Celebrity Softball Game.
A dedicated husband and father, Mockler still finds time to participate in youth outreach programs through the sheriff’s office, and to volunteer with organizations like the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children. “You go until you drain yourself, and then you hope someone else picks it up for a little bit and gives you that chance to rest,” he says. “And then you go again.”