For anyone who’s ever experienced depression, it can feel like a weight on your shoulders making everyday life feel slow, difficult and overwhelming – a hopeless slog.
To bring attention to the epidemic of depression and suicide among veterans, a nonprofit organization is using that analogy to get its message across.
Operation: 23 to Zero, founded by Fridley-based David Peters, sponsors “ruck marches” throughout Minnesota to raise awareness of the estimated 22 veterans and one active-duty service member who commit suicide each day. The organization’s name references those 23 men and women.
“We see life as a trip with a ruck on,” said Peters, referring to the military practice of going on a brisk hike with a weighted pack on the back, sometimes called a rucksack. “As we go on, life places weight in our respective rucks. Some need assistance from the team. We, as an organization, strive to take some of the weight out of the rucks of those whose are especially heavy.”
The group sponsors 10-12 ruck marches a year in the Upper Midwest, and will offer its third annual event in Isanti on Sunday, Sept. 24.
Sea Cadets will march
Operation: 23 to Zero will partner with Cambridge’s Polaris Battalion of the United States Navy Sea Cadet Corps in the hike through the streets of Isanti. The Cadets and their younger division called TS Trident, range in age from 10-18.
The event is open to the public and will begin at 10 a.m. in Clifford Park at 201 Isanti Parkway NW. The approximately 9-mile course will end back at the park.
“The Cadets will carry their sea bags if they don’t have rucks,” said Dawn van Hees, head of public relations with the Sea Cadets, “or they will just walk if they can’t carry the packs.”
The public is invited to walk along, with or without backpacks.
“We have moms pushing strollers,” Peters said, “guys in jeans and tennis shoes and military in full gear and 100-pound packs. It’s all on the person’s comfort level. It’s more the message we are trying to get across that is the important factor.”
March’s message is three-fold
And that message is the purpose of the event – not raising money. According to Peters, the ruck marches are not fundraisers, but are simply to build awareness of the problem of military suicide rates and what his organization is doing to combat them.
“We have a three-pronged mission,” he said. “First and foremost is raising awareness. The more people we can get thinking about the issues at hand, the more visibility we can raise and hopefully, the more solutions we can create.”
The second mission is peer support for hurting vets. “If we can get guys and girls out of the house, away from the pills or booze and connecting with other local veterans and military members,” he said, “we can build a network and help those in need.”
The third mission is “resource connectivity,” according to Peters, bringing together skills and resources from different businesses, organizations and individuals to help others.
“For some, all they can do is donate money,” Peters said. “Others can donate time or materials to accomplish projects. And some can give an ear or a shoulder to lean on, to listen and to help.” His goal is to make those resources available to the men and women who need them.
No advance registration is necessary to join in the march – just show up with a desire to help carry the weight shouldered by our veterans.
Sunday, Sept. 24
Clifford Park, Isanti
Polaris Battalion Sea Cadets
Dawn van Hees
Phone: (763) 229-8450
Operation: 23 to Zero
Phone: (612) 930-2320 (Call or text)