Alabama Students Ruck 150 Miles From Tuscaloosa to Auburn for Vet Suicide Awareness

by Matthew Memrick
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Alabama college veterans embarked on a 72-hour, 150-mile ruck march to raise awareness of vets and suicides.

Fox News reported that the Organizers say that Operation Iron Ruck, in its fourth year, hopes to bring attention to the rising numbers. Unfortunately, an estimated 17 vets die from suicide each day.

The event started at Alabama’s Bryant Denny Stadium Wednesday and will eventually finish Saturday at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. These veterans will finish before the Iron Bowl begins.

Operation Iron Ruck Means Items For Veterans

Fifty student participants are carrying a 22-pound rucksack containing donated items. Hygiene products and food items will go to charities that benefit vets in the state. These charities include Mission 22, Tuskegee Veteran’s Assisted Living Centers, and Three Hots and a Cot. 

One veteran participant will be carrying the game ball, in addition to 22 sets of dog tags in remembrance of the lost service members, according to organizers.

Alabama’s Slade Salmon and Auburn’s Clayton Buchanan put together this year’s ruck march.

“Isolation is a major factor in veteran suicide,” Salmon said. “Reaching out to those we served with could be the catalyst in saving a life.”

Salmon said organizers hope to raise donations for national, state, as well as local charity organizations.

“Operation Iron Ruck is more than just a bunch of vets walking down the road for three days,” Salmon told 1819 News.

Additionally, Salmon said the run represents people who are able to put aside their differences, come together, and “participate in an event for a cause that is greater than all of us.”

Group Works To Prevent Veteran Suicide

Buchanan, a veteran, said he and many others know former service members who died by suicide. He’s seen a strong veteran community come together previously for Operation Iron Ruck. Buchanan said the community is committed to reducing those veteran suicide numbers “from 17 to zero.”

Alabama officials backed the event. Governor Kay Ivey issued a statement saying, “It is imperative that, as a nation, we never forget to offer our support to the brave men and women who have served our country in the military.”

Overall, Alabama knows it needs to work on preventing vet suicide. It started Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, veterans, and their families to focus on these tragedies. Ivey said the state can support returning troops as well. She applauded the event’s organizers and participants. 

A Growing Crisis For Vets

Alabama’s vet suicide numbers show a growing crisis over the past few years. The Alabama Reporter said there were 109 veteran suicides in 2019.

The pandemic has made numbers significantly worse.

Alabama’s veteran suicide rate was slightly higher than the national rate, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2020, nearly 18% of those who died by suicide in Alabama (793) were veterans. Only 9.1% of Alabamians have served.

Additionally, the state said male vets are dying by suicide at a rate of 1.3 times more per year. Sadly, these men die at a higher rate than civilians. That rate is 2.1 times higher for female vets.

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