Just weeks after returning home from Kuwait, Air Force Staff Sgt. Tommy Jorie marched with other active, veteran and future military members and supporters from Waseca to Morristown.
The Waseca resident took a recess from reconnecting with the family he hadn’t seen in seven months and meeting the daughter who was born while he was away to remember the comrades he has lost to suicide.
The fourth Three Legion Ruck on Saturday also provided Jorie an opportunity to reflect on how he is re-adjusting to civilian life and if he’s witnessed any signs that the soldiers he served with are struggling, he said.
The annual ruck march challenges anyone willing to walk to raise awareness about high rates of suicide among members of the military and veterans.
A group led by Minnesota National Guard Warrant Officer Jeremiah Miller walks nearly 14 miles from the Waseca American Legion to the Morristown American Legion. Another group led by Faribault American Legion Chaplain Kirk Mansfield walks from Faribault to Morristown.
The event is inspired by a military training exercise requiring soldiers to march with loaded backpacks called rucks.
Many of the Waseca and Faribault marchers carried backpacks, but it was not a requirement. Names of veterans from the Midwest who lost their lives to suicide were pinned onto the packs.
Donations to Operation 23 to 0, a Minnesota organization working to prevent veteran and military suicide, are accepted but not requested. The primary mission is to raise awareness — among the drivers who pass them by and among the walkers themselves — Miller said.
Before their journey the walkers gathered at their respective American Legions for breakfast and a presentation about suicide prevention.
Marine Corps recruit Nathan Mumme said he was shocked to learn that one estimate found an average of 22 veterans and one active duty military member die by suicide every day in the U.S. Another study estimated 20 U.S. veterans per day.
“I had no idea that the number was that large. It was very eye opening,” said the home-schooled high school senior from Waterville.
Mumme was among the several young Marine Corps enlistees who contributed to a record turnout of approximately 50 participants in the Waseca leg of march.
The enlistees were asked by their recruiter to participate but Mumme said he would have marched even if it wasn’t required.
“There is honestly no place I’d rather be,” he said as he walked along Waseca County Road 7. “It’s a great hike for a great cause.”
Miller said the walk also aims to remind struggling servicemen, servicewoman and veterans that there is a network of comrades who want to help.
“When you are at your lowest point, think of these people,” he said. “We represent the brotherhood and the sisterhood. You are not alone.”
Jeremiah Miller’s younger daughter, Bailey Miller, 17, wore high heels for the first half of the march in reverence to the pain experienced by veterans contemplating suicide.
“My pain is nothing compared to what they experience,” she said.
Jeremiah Miller and Mansfield led their third walk just a few months ago and decided to hold another so soon because Miller soon will be deployed to the Middle East for at least nine months.
The human resources officer already has served nearly 25 months in the Middle East over two prior deployments. He has served 23 years in the National Guard.
“I just love serving my country. Really I do,” he said.
While he’s away, Jeremiah’s oldest daughter, Maurela Miller, 19, will carry on her father’s mission at home.
With assistance from her younger siblings and others, she’s planning to organize another ruck march as well as carry on the Memorial Day vigil outside the Waseca County Courthouse. The vigil has taken a few different forms over the years to remember fallen and missing in action soldiers.
© 2018 The Free Press (Mankato, Minn.)
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