This Memorial Day, the holiday set aside to pay tribute to those who died serving in the military, a group of 17 active and retired service members who call themselves the Shepherd’s Men will complete a 108-mile run to raise awareness for and reduce the high rate of veteran suicides in the U.S.
The eight-day run that began at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and culminates in Atlanta, Georgia, weaved through eight cities in as part of an awareness and fundraising effort for the SHARE Military Initiative, a program that treats veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Each marathon participant wore 22-pound jackets in addition to the 71 pounds in a traditional rucksack to symbolize the 22 veterans who die from self-inflicted injuries every day. The entire team also ran 22 kilometers in each city before moving on to the next city by car.
“We run to share the burden our veterans carry every day as a result of their time in combat,” Travis Ellis, founder of the Shepherd’s Men, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is our duty and privilege as Americans to fight for our heroes and their service to our country.”
And, it is our duty to recognize those who may have survived the war, but whose emotional injuries resulted in them choosing to end their lives, added Supriya Venkatesan in an editorial in Motto. “War changes you – there is no way that something so extreme, as I did for the 15 months I was deployed, can not impact the human psyche.”
She cites a 2014 survey conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America that showed 40 percent of veterans have known at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide, and 31 percent have thought about taking their own lives since joining the military. Three out of four survey respondents also reported they have had a mental health injury and are seeking help.
“To be an effective soldier, you have to have a certain level of emotional numbing. But this conditioning is hard to shed post-deployment. The act of feeling takes a lot of courage, and to say you need help takes even greater courage. I salute those who seek it,” Venkatesan wrote. “This Memorial Day, I honor my brothers and sisters in arms who have given their life in and out of war – and those who struggle with their demons and have the courage to seek help.”