RALEIGH, N.C. – If you were in Raleigh, N.C. on May 31, you may have seen a ragged group, carrying American flags, wearing rucksacks weighed down with canned goods and handing out business cards all around town.
The 15 person group was made up of former and current service members, veterans, active duty Soldiers from Ft. Bragg, N.C., National Guard Soldiers as well as civilians, and were led by Staff Sgt. Elle Milo of the North Carolina National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, Joint Force Headquarters.
In addition to the weight they carried on their backs, the group carried the thought that even one veteran suicide is too many, much less the average of 22 Veterans who commit suicide every day according to a Veterans Administration study conducted in 2012. This road march was one of many that take place all over the country called Carry The Fallen.
“This is the kind of stuff I'm drawn to, individual efforts leading to a collective action that bring about change, no matter how big or small,” Milo said. “This is what we did today. We did not forget our veterans and the fallen. We care about the issues of PTSD and veteran suicide epidemic, and we did something about it. We helped make a difference in raising awareness about this, as well as in raising funds for Active Heroes.”
The group raised almost $1200 for Active Heroes and collected over 250 pounds of food to donate to a local food bank.
Cary The Fallen is a fundraiser for Active Heroes, a non-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen active duty military, veterans and their families in order to provide the coping skills to manage the stress and the triggering points that lead to suicide and they are currently building a retreat for Military Families in Kentucky.
Daren Nichols started the fundraiser marches in September of 2013 after talking to an active duty Soldier who has done a lot of work with Active Heroes.
“I started Carry the Fallen because I wanted to do something to help with the epidemic of Veteran suicides,” said Nichols. “It's important to me because there are more suicides every year than we have had [U.S. Military] KIA's the entire war on terror. It's a tragedy.”
The ruck events help raise money through sponsorship of the participants and awareness by conducting the events in public places while carrying an American Flag.
“I hope to make the nation aware of the fact that over 22 veterans commit suicide every single day,” said Nichols, who spent four years in the Army. “Hopefully to be able to finish the Family Retreat in Kentucky this year also.”
Many of the participants of the Raleigh event said they knew a veteran who had committed suicide and could relate to desire to help Veterans.
“As a paratrooper, that isn’t an abstract category of people I have to be convinced to care about,” said Staff Sgt. Jay Huwieler, who serves with B Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. “We are talking about my friends, and the troopers I work with everyday.”
Huwieler, who made the trip from Ft. Bragg for the 12-hour ruck, said these types of events help bridge the gap between civilian and military worlds.
“Most Soldiers have been thanked in an airport for our service,” Huwieler said. “However, participating in Carry The Fallen is an entirely different proposition. These are civilians who actually dedicated their whole Saturday to rucking nearly a marathon distance and canvassed the community to raise awareness and hand out cards and flyers.
“That’s a whole other level of commitment to the troops,” Huwieler said. “It feels like we’re building better Americans, one ruck at a time.”
As the team rucked around Raleigh, they took the opportunity to talk with anyone who would listen, rucking through public areas like the Raleigh Farmers Market and the Flea Market at the State Fair Grounds.
“We certainly caught some people's attention rucking with our weighted rucks on and the American flag flying high,” Milo said. “It was awesome to see a Marine veteran recognized right away what we were doing, came up to us, thanked us, shook our hands, and hugged us.”
By the end of the day the group was tired and hungry, sore and sunburnt, but for the ruckers, it was worth the effort.
“If we get even one more veteran the help, the care and treatment that he or she needs,” Huwieler said, “ then every footstep on the march, every flyer handed out, every pound carried was worth it.”