Forward Flag
by Mark H. Finley, U.S. Army Veteran.
Photos by Mark Finley

New Mexico’s ~145,000 veterans place the state tenth in the nation for concentration of veterans, according to the NM Department of Veterans Services. Many of these veterans need some help from time to time – a welcoming smile, a warm meal, help traversing the quagmire of the Veterans Administration (VA), getting a haircut, etc. Forward Flag Wellness Center is there to help.

The brick building that houses Forward Flag near Central and San Mateo in Albuquerque is nondescript – one story, with a main entrance that almost seems hidden. If you glance toward the fenced parking and storage lot, you’ll see the 41-foot Bluebird motor home that takes Forward Flag staff and volunteers to the far reaches of New Mexico to help veterans get the services they need. Just inside the front door, an older man with an Army ballcap studded with pins looks up from his computer screen and smiles. The veteran who just walked through the door knows he or she came to the right place.

“I was responsible for providing bullets and beans to my troops when I was a sergeant and I’m taking that philosophy to the services we provide here at Forward Flag,” said Ted Skibyak, the director of Forward Flag Wellness Center since 2016. “We provide a lot of services to help our veterans. That’s what we’re here for.”

Ted is an Army veteran who served 37 years between regular Army, Reserves, and National Guard, rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major. He was deployed in Iraq and Kosovo. He was medically retired after an injury that paralyzed his right arm.

Forward Flag’s primary mission is veteran suicide reduction and education.  To that end, they offer both online and in-person training for anyone who wants it.  The course is called QPR, for Question, Persuade, Refer.  There is a one-hour online course that you can take any time 24/7/365. Click HERE to learn more. It teaches how to recognize the signs and symptoms of someone who is suicidal, what questions to ask them and the right way to phrase the questions, and how to get them to professional help.  QPR is like CPR in that you are not saving the person, you are keeping them alive until they can get professional help.  After finishing the online course, you can print out a certificate that you can add to your personnel file, your resume, or hang on your wall.  The main difference between the online and the in-person class is that the in-person class allows you to earn Continuing Education Units, which is important in a number of professions.

Both classes are free.

An important point in suicide reduction is helping veterans avoid social isolation.  That is where the Forward Flag Wellness Center at 204 Madeira Ave NE, ABQ, comes in.  Open 9-5 Monday to Friday, veterans can just drop in for a variety of activities.  Located one block north and one block east of Central and San Mateo, it is easy to find because of the landmark former bank building that towers over the area.

The Wellness Center is also called a Coffee Bunker, because the coffee is always on.  There are bagels available thanks to a continuing donation from the local Einstein’s Bagels.  There frequently are other food or snacks.  Veterans can just drop in for a cup of coffee and a bagel.  Free, of course.  There are usually other vets to chat with; you could make some new friends.

The Wellness Center has lots of activities to keep clients from social isolation:

  • A computer is available to check emails or take care of other online activities.
  • Board games and books are available.
  • There is a pool table, a ping pong table, a foosball table, and a very nice weight room.
  • Tuesday and Wednesday Larry Lucero teaches guitar classes.
  • On Thursday afternoon there is a peer support group led by Mikkel Bluespider.
  • On Friday there is a potluck lunch at noon. There is usually a barber giving free haircuts during the potluck. Friday night at 6pm is movie night, usually showing comedies.

Forward Flag doesn’t just serve the City of Albuquerque.  They take the Bluebird mobile home all over the state doing outreach.  If you would like them to come to your area, just call (505) 933-0549 or email

Parked in a shopping center the mobile home is a magnet for veterans. This provides an opportunity to talk to them about suicide prevention, the PACT Act, and other veteran issues.

Mark Finley in front of the Bluebird

Want to help?

Donate – Send a check to Forward Flag at:

204 Madeira Drive NE, ABQ, NM 87108

Volunteer – stop by, call (505) 933-0549 or email

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