By 8:30 a.m. on a recent Monday morning, the summer sun is already beating down on Mark Perez, 30, as he stands at attention in his Marine Corps dress blues. Since April he’s been regularly climbing onto a concrete ledge on the Woodhead Street bridge over the Southwest Freeway in Montrose, where he stands motionless for an hour saluting the northbound commuters passing underneath.
The drivers below never fail to notice him. Some snap iPhone photos, some roll down their windows to wave or give him thumbs up, many honk approvingly. Once, a trio of drivers pulled over and saluted him. Perez says he doesn’t really notice any of it—his attention is focused inward, in meditation. It’s a ritual designed to raise awareness of PTSD, and to help himself cope.
“I’m proud to wear this uniform,” he says. “It didn’t cause my PTSD. I don’t blame the Marine Corps, I praise the Marine Corps for making me the leader that I am.”
Perez served from 2006 to 2010, deployed for most of that time in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. Though he never saw direct combat, he was on a convoy that was hit with an IED—even now, he says, seeing trash on the road floods him with intense feelings of anxiety and fear.
Originally from California, Perez moved to Houston after completing his tour. Here, he tried to start a new life as a civilian—enrolling in college, joining a frat, getting a girlfriend—only to watch everything fall away as he struggled with alcoholism, insomnia and aggressive behavior. After getting a proper diagnosis and treatment, Perez began to turn his life around following the birth of his daughter in 2014. He found success as a physical trainer, and started to think about how to help others like him who struggled with the same issues.
“I didn’t have time to focus on myself anymore, which was fine, because I was taking care of my daughter, taking care of other people. That’s the first time I really started feeling better,” says Perez. “I started thinking about boot camp and how it takes 90 days to create a Marine. … Why can’t we create entrepreneurs in 90 days?”
And so, at the beginning of the year, he founded his own non-profit, Bold Motion, with the goal of serving veterans with PTSD. He hopes to eventually offer small groups the same kind of housing and stipends that Marine recruits receive, as they’re taught physical fitness, mental wellness and entrepreneurship, with the help of partnering organizations. Though mostly theoretical at this point, it’s a program based on his own experience.
Perez admits he’s learning as he goes when it comes to the world of non-profits and how to make an impact. A stunt in March had him atop the city’s iconic Be Someone bridge, where he was almost run over by a train before being ordered down by police and evaluated as a potential suicide risk at the VA hospital. (His homemade sign with HELP in giant red letters was probably a factor.)
“It was an accident, and I have to live with it,” Perez says, adding that he’s since worked with the city to make sure his stunts are legal. Still, it did garner attention. He quotes the advice he got from a local CEO. “He said, Make as much noise as you f---ing can, and I said, okay.”