22-mile journey highlights veteran suicide
While Veterans Day weekend is a time to honor those who have served, Operation 22 took the weekend to raise awareness of the 22 men and women who commit suicide every day because of the trauma they experienced serving their country.
A group of 25 gathered at Southside Baptist Church at 6 a.m. Saturday morning to complete the 22-mile walk from Russellville to the Harley Davidson in Tuscumbia.
“It’s a little extra meaning for us because we have buddies that deal with the same issues that we’re walking for,” said one of the event organizers, Caleb Thompson. “Being on Veterans Day weekend, it’s already sort of a patriotic weekend anyway, so it just makes it better.”
This event was in partnership with the National Military Veteran Project. NMVP founder Melissa Jarboe said each mile of the walk serves as a memorial to the fallen soldiers who are forgotten because they died on American soil.
“A lot of the times, suicide is something that isn’t talked about much and is looked at almost like losing the battle, but that isn’t the case,” Jarboe said. “For these 22 veterans each day who lose their life to suicide, we want to honor them and their service. This is a memorial to them and everything they sacrificed up until the very end for their country.”
Thompson said of the 25 people in attendance, about half were veterans coming out to support. Participants ranged from people who trained for the 22-mile walk to people who were not as accustomed to long-distance walks.
“We had a lot of people who told me afterward they were not as prepared for it as they thought they were, but they look forward to doing it again,” Thompson said.
The event was held as a fundraiser for veteran suicide prevention. The walk was free to participate in, but Operation 22 sold hats and T-shirts and accepted pledges to raise $2,000. The goal is to raise $5,000, and Thompson said if Operation 22 sells the remainder of its merchandise, it will come close to the goal.
Merchandise is still available for sale through the Operation 22 Facebook page.
This is the third year for the walk, and Thompson said he is already thinking of ideas to make next year’s walk bigger and better.