On Saturday, March 26th, 15 men will strap on military-issue flak jackets, lace up pairs of trusty, well-worn running shoes, and start jogging south from the city of Boston.
A day later, they will reach Rhode Island.
By day five, they’ll be in Knoxville, Tennessee.
And by the end of their trip on April 3rd, they will release the 22-lb gear from their tired bodies and unlace their running shoes in the city of Athens, Georgia.
These are the Shepherd’s Men. They are a group of active duty and retired US military servicemembers (and one civilian), running in support of the Shepherd Center, a private hospital in Georgia with a dedicated initiative aimed at helping veterans receive the care they most deserve.
The 22 kilometers they run every day, and the 22 pounds of gear they carry symbolize the estimated number of US veterans who take their lives every day, a staggering number that was 22 too many for Walter L. Marques, a Marine who spoke to us about their upcoming run and what it means to raise awareness of the importance of veteran care state by state, city by city.
A word from Walter Marques
Footage from the last time we did this journey was in three million homes last year. Local media, social outlets, newspaper coverage. We raised awareness of the issues facing veterans in need, and we supported Shepherd Centers’ SHARE Military Initiative Program with every kilometer we ran.
All of the active-duty Marines and the one Navy corpsman on our team volunteer their time to support the program. We come in before our work day starts and train together, and some of us volunteer before we go home for the night to attend events to keep spreading the word.
And that word is: Veterans need better care in this country. When you consider that on average, 22 veterans take their lives on a daily basis, you understand how much of an epidemic that is. Veterans from Operation: Iraqi Freedom and Operation: Enduring Freedom constitute a generation that is disappearing, and we don’t want to lose a single one anymore. We want to provide vets with hope, and that’s what we do every day.
The program we support aims to this. Everything from rehab to counseling, dealing with the issues few people think about. Take for instance being in a grocery store. Do you know how challenging it is for many vets who’ve experienced the chaos of battle to be in such a hectic place with all those noises and sounds surrounding them? Moments like that take a toll on the mind and they are difficult to adjust to.
A story I’m fond of is the impact we made on one vet’s life who saw us on television during our last run. This combat-wounded vet had a bullet lodged in his spine, right where the VA refused to operate on him. He wasn’t sleeping due to the constant pain. But he saw us on TV and told his wife “I just saw some guys who might be able to help,” and the following day he walked into the Shepherd Center. The center immediately removed the bullet and relieved his pain. After that, he made it through the rest of the rehabilitation program and has since graduated. He’s better now. And if it wasn’t for the Center, and if it wasn’t for the news program which aired footage of our run, he might be still suffering today. Or, he might not even be with us today.
Take for instance being in a grocery store. Do you know how challenging it is for many vets who’ve experienced the chaos of battle to be in such a hectic place with all these noises and sounds surrounding them?
We would run a thousand miles to help any veteran who may be on the cusp of losing hope or giving up.
I don’t have an answer to the epidemic of suicide that’s struck our veterans. All I can do is run with the other fourteen men alongside me and hope that the journey we take and the words we speak reach the attention of those who need a helping hand.
We run for awareness, but we also run for the symbolism of our cause. And the pain we endure with every kilometer we run is meant to represent the invisible pain that many vets deal with. We want to prevent an entire generation of veterans from going extinct, and we want them to know that we are there for them.
We want them to know that they don’t need to become part of a statistic.
Go to http://www.shepherdsmen.com to learn more about Walter, his team, and their mission to help vets.