HARLINGEN — “Hey, ho! Here we go!” shouted a voice from a loudspeaker.
The recording was calling cadence to more than 30 people who’d turned out early yesterday morning for the third annual 22-hour March in March, sponsored by the Roadrunner Ruckers of South Texas.
The long march with rucksacks was being held to bring attention to the high suicide rate among military veterans. It was named after a VA statistic released in 2012 which stated that 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
Boots crunched gravel as the group walked in formation from the Iwo Jima Memorial on the Marine Military Academy campus. A man in camouflage pants carried a white United States Army Airborne flag, another in desert camouflage cap flew the U.S. Marine Corps flag. Several ROTC students from Edinburg participated.
WHY DO THEY DO IT?
Veterans commit suicide because of trauma suffered in combat zones overseas.
“The big thing with these guys coming back, they’re over there taking care of us but when they come home, there’s not really anybody taking care of them,” said Karla Nemitz, an administrator for Roadrunner Ruckers of South Texas, or RRST.
Nemitz, a five-year veteran of the Coast Guard, explained how the change from military to civilian life can present problems.
“When you’re in the service you’re given a mission,” she said. “There’s the chain of command, it’s very structured, so you’re used to that structure. When you get out and you come to the civilian world, everything’s almost chaos. There’s no real order anymore.”
And then there’s the stress of combat situations in which troops must remain constantly aware of their surroundings.
“You have to be on alert almost 24/7 because you never know when you’re going to get bombed, when you’re going to get shot at,” she said. “You have to be on your guard, so a lot of veterans deal with anxiety and depression.”
IT’S A GROUP EFFORT
Many supporters were marching for friends or loved ones who suffered from PTSD.
“A lot of veterans like to stick together, especially when they get out of the service,” said Ricky Garcia, 27, who served two years in the Marine Corps.
“I have a lot of friends that are in the Marine Corps,” said the Brownsville resident. “I do have one in particular that does suffer with suicidal tendencies so it’s kind of for him. He served two tours in Iraq.”
Maria Herrera Vega was thinking of her two sons, both of whom served in the Marine Corps.
“My first born, Javier Vega Jr., was a corporal in the Marine Corps,” she said as the Marine Corps anthem played in the background. She thought wistfully as she considered her son, who was later killed while serving as a Border Patrol agent.
Certainly the death of Javier was hard on her younger son who was in the Marine Corps for nine years, serving three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
“He’s doing well, considering everything he’s been through,” Vega said. “He was in an IED explosion and lost a couple of his men and he was injured, too. And in Afghanistan he was shot.”
And there was someone else.
“I’m also doing this in honor of my neighbor’s husband and her daughter’s father,” she said. “He suffered with PTSD.”
WORLD WAR II VETERAN
World War II veteran James William, 95, didn’t participate in the march, but he did lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance before it began. He was happy to see people march for a good cause.
“Whenever it helps anybody, that’s a good thing,” said the Navy veteran who worked in demolitions.
He felt it was sad so many veterans suffer from mental health issues.
“That’s too bad,” he said.
“I don’t know. I think it’s brought on by family conditions. I guess you could say I’ve experienced many of those.”
Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255
Texas Veteran Suicide 530
Texas Veteran Suicide Rate 33.2
National Veteran Suicides 6,070
National Veteran Suicide Rate 30.1 percent
Veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan wars between 2001–2007:
• Deployed Veterans had a 41% higher suicide risk compared to the general U.S. population.
• Non-deployed Veterans had a 61% higher suicide risk compared to the general U.S. population.
• Deployed Veterans had a 25% lower overall risk of death from all causes compared to the general U.S. population.
• Non-deployed Veterans had a 24% lower risk of death from all causes compared to the general U.S. population.