On Friday, I had the opportunity to join over 500 other amazing, inspiration people to walk 22 miles. 1 mile for every Veteran who will take their life each day. Each and every one of us probably knows someone who has been affected by this too. It is a real issue that we need to do what we can to help lower that number!
Burdened with the stigma associated with mental health issues and the military “shame” surrounding PTS (Post Traumatic Stress), they instead turn to suicide as their only option to relieve suffering.
Just a few facts:
According to a VA study each day over 20 veterans take their own lives (currently this number is at 22), But together we can win the war against veteran suicide.
Researchers found that the risk of suicide for veterans is 21 percent higher when compared to civilian adults. From 2001 to 2014, as the civilian suicide rate rose about 23.3 percent, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped more than 32 percent
This is not just veterans who were deployed, served overseas or faced combat. It affects all veterans, all branches of the armed forces, men and women.
This year marked the 4th year that H.O.O.A.H WI has organized this march and every year it has grown. Last year there were about 250 people who walked, this year we were over 500 strong! It was amazing to see everyone come out and show their support together. From veterans to active military, their families and civilians, everyone came together for one amazing cause! Although not required, all were encouraged to wear packs weighing 22 pounds.
One of the most emotionally moving moments of the morning was walking around the table of boots. Each boot represented one veteran who had taken his or her own life. Putting names and faces to the cause really brought everything to light. These were all someones family. Someone son/daughter, husband/wife, mom/dad, friend, coworker… Too many boots on the table! Too many lives cut short.
I was truly blessed to have been able to attend this even this year. When I signed up, I was just planning on walking solo, as I was not sure who else was walking (Plus with it being on Friday this year, I knew that most of my usual cohorts for events like this would be at work). I was blessed to have run into a few ladies that I used to work with and they invited me to walk with their crew! Thanks Pamela and Ann Marie! It was awesome to spend the day with you and the rest of the crew!
We all started our walk at just before 9am on Friday morning with sunny skies and a light breeze. Ok, it was a little cold, especially considering Thursday was beautiful and much warmer! But we didn’t care. We had our mission for the day. These miles were not going to walk themselves and with good friends by your side, it doesn’t get any better!
Every few miles, along the path, there was a boot. A constant reminder of why were are out there, doing what we were. We made a point to stop at each boot and read the name. No boot was ignored. Every life was precious. Every life needs to be remembered.
It was amazing to see everyone working together to make sure everyone was successful on their march. At each rest stop or water station, the sense of community was prevalent. Packs being adjusted, snacks/rations being shared, blisters being tended to, smiles and laughs everywhere.
Huge thanks to to crew at PAi – Plan Administrators Inc of DePere for sponsoring and hosting the half way point lunch/refueling, rest stop! After 11 miles, we were all greeting with smiles and warm food! Hot Dogs, chicken Booyah, PB&J sandwiches, cookies, chips and more were available for all walkers! The entire PAi lawn was covered with walkers relaxing, laughing and enjoying each others company, as well as all the amazing food! Before long, armed with a few snacks for the trip back, we started our journey back to Ashwaubenon.
One of the coolest thing to see on the route today (aside from the hundreds of inspirational individuals) was the blooming red roses. Yes, there were roses blooming, in November in Wisconsin! Was a great reminder for all of us to make sure we take the time each day to slow down… to stop to smell the roses. Every moment is precious and should be cherished.
As we slowly made our way back to Stadium View for the post march celebration, I could not help but stop and admire the quiet scenery around downtown Green Bay. Everything about today was serene and peaceful. I really do not get downtown often enough and really need to spend more time exploring everything the city has to offer! But that will have to wait for another day… 22 miles is enough for one day, and I wasn’t done yet! I still had almost 4 more miles to go at this point.
What what seemed like forever (ok in reality it was only 7 hours, we were in the home stretch! I had the pleasure of walking the last mile or so with an older gentleman that was truly inspiring. Over the last several years he has done some major walking, all over this beautiful state and he shared some of his adventures with me! I can home hope that when I get to be his age, I am still able to do all of the things he does! Thank you for Jim, for sharing your story and the last mile with me! It was a great pleasure meeting you and I can’t wait until our paths cross again!
If everything about this day itself wasn’t amazing, the truest display of no soldier left behind was yet to by seen. One of the promises that this event makes is that NO ONE will be left behind, everyone will finish with journey. A short while after we got back, they made the announcement that the last walker was just passing the final water station and they expected her back around 6pm. They were encouraging everyone that was still there to stick around and cheer her on as she finished her trek. They periodically would give us updates as she worked her way closer. When she was about 1.5 miles from the end of her journey, we received word that she was struggling. She wanted to quit. The crew in the event truck were encouraging her to keep going. She came too far to give it up now. This is when I saw true compassion in its purest form. After confirmation that she was NOT giving up, they asked for a dozen people to come together to walk out as a team to meet her and walk the last stretch with her.
They didn’t get a dozen people…
They got about 3 dozen or more, most of whom were strangers, all come forward. Even though they had already finished their 22 miles, they dug deep, and did what they needed to do. Armed with headlamps and flashlights, they set out to bring her home.
I, unfortunately, was not able to stick around until the crew made it back, but on my way home, I saw the entire team waiting to cross the street, just a few blocks from the end. They brought her in together.
No one left behind.
This is how it always should be. We need to always be there and show compassion for our fellow soldiers, family members, friends, neighbors and yes, even strangers. You may never know when a simple act of kindness came make a huge impact on another life.
In the end, from the last I heard, we raised over $66,000 for H.O.O.A.H’s efforts to fight and prevent veteran suicide.
22 miles for a very worthy cause. I know I’ll be there next year…
will you? Lets work to not have to add any more boots to the table!