Correction: An earlier version of this story said the march will be March 22. It is, however, set for Saturday, March 29. The Courier regrets the error.
It’s not unusual for soldiers to take part in rucksack marches; it’s a job requirement. Requirements aside, though, several Fort Stewart soldiers are volunteering to take part in a rucksack march Saturday, March 29.
The “Carry the Fallen” march is organized by Active Heroes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the organization’s website, activeheroes.org, it also provides financial support for the families of veterans with PTSD, and it’s trying to raise awareness to fight suicide among veterans. The website says 22 veterans commit suicide every day. A Jan. 9 Stars and Stripes article by Leo Shane III confirmed the high suicide rate, noting a 44 percent increase among male veterans younger than 30. Female veterans in the same age group saw an 11 percent increase in suicides, according to the article.
“Anyone with PTSD needs to know there are people who care and want them to succeed,” said Sgt. Billy Jones, a Bradley systems maintainer participating in Saturday’s road march. “No matter what, they need to know there’s always someone willing to listen or help out when they have a bad day.”
The 12-year Army veteran with four combat deployments behind him will join other soldiers and veterans for a 12-hour road march through downtown Savannah to raise funds and awareness to support veterans. Jones said he has a few friends with PTSD and at least one suffering from a traumatic brain injury. He said Active Heroes’ mission is to strengthen the coping skills of active-duty military, veterans and their families in order to help them manage stress and the triggering points that can lead to suicide.
“Anything can be considered a trigger,” Jones said. “It can be a movie or financial problems, loss of a friend, a noise or smell. Each person is different as far as what can trigger (him or her) to think about suicide.”
Jones said he participated in a the first “Carry the Fallen” march through Savannah four months ago as a way to honor PTSD veterans on Veterans Day. He joined Active Heroes because he thinks no veteran should be forgotten. Jones called the military “one big family,” explaining that veterans understand each other because they know what the other has done.
He’s participating in Saturday’s march along with several Stewart soldiers, including Dave Goodell, Benjamin Kersher and Ryan Mitchell. Their team leader is former soldier Thomas Nash. Nash served as a CH-47 helicopter mechanic, door gunner, phase team leader and aircraft-recovery team leader. During his six years in the Army, he served 15 months in Iraq and 13 months in Afghanistan.
“It seems as if almost every individual that goes on deployment is affected in some sort of way,” Nash said. “But the way everyone looks at PTSD, each and every person is afraid to admit that they have PTSD or that they need help. ... The idea for ‘Carry the Fallen’ is for individuals to carry a rucksack to simulate the weight that soldiers and veterans carry with PTSD. Rucksacks are nowhere near the same as PTSD; however, they strain the body similar to how PTSD does.”
Nash said the rucksacks worn by most of the march participants weigh about 55 pounds. The ruck, a good pair of hiking boots and an American flag are all that’s required for those participating in the march, he said. A couple canteens, CamelBak containers or a dozen water bottles also would be good to have along. Be prepared for sore feet and muscles, too, he added.
Nash said that before he took part in the November event, it had been several years since he’d done a ruck march. He said he marches in memory of two sergeants he looked up to and still misses. They were both killed in Iraq, he said.
Nash said he supports Active Heroes because of his respect for the organization’s president, Troy Yocum, whose dedication to veterans has enabled him to walk across the country twice. He said Yocum is motivated because his grandfather, an Army sergeant, committed suicide.
Nash said Saturday’s march will begin on River Street at 6 a.m. and head to Richmond Hill. The march will continue until 6 p.m. He said participants raise funds by accepting donations through their web pages, which are linked to heroes.org. For more information, go to fundraise.activeheroes.org/fundraise?fcid=264470.