Governor Kay Ivey on Monday offered her support to Operation Iron Ruck, an effort by student veterans at the University of Alabama and Auburn University to bring awareness to veteran suicide.
On Wednesday, Nov. 24, student veterans from both schools will embark on a ruck march from Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, and on Iron Bowl Saturday, Nov. 27, they will complete the route at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn.
“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. We must put a greater focus on preventing veteran suicide and on supporting these brave men and women after they return home, which is why I am so proud of the efforts of our student veterans embarking on Operation Iron Ruck,” Ivey said. “Our military men and women put it all on the line to ensure our freedoms, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Alabama will always stand behind our veterans.”
The group of student veterans, led by Slade Salmon of the University of Alabama and Auburn University’s Clayton Buchanan, will take part in the four-day, 151-mile ruck march from Tuscaloosa to Auburn, while carrying rucksacks. Those rucksacks contain donated items that the students will deliver to Mission 22, Tuskegee Veteran’s Assisted Living Centers and Three Hots and a Cot. The items include hygiene products and an assortment of food items.
“Many veterans, myself included, personally know another veteran or service member who have succumbed to suicide,” Buchanan said. “On average, 17 veterans commit suicide daily. Through Operation Iron Ruck and the collaboration of the student veterans of Auburn and Alabama, it truly shows that the veteran community is strong and committed to take care of our brothers and sisters until seventeen becomes zero.”
“Operation Iron Ruck is more than just a bunch of vets walking down the road for three days. OIR represents two distinct groups of 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,” Salmon said. “The 151-mile march represents the struggles and hardships that veterans go through on a constant basis as they assimilate back into the civilian world. Our message for everyone is to reach out to their veteran friends and see how they are doing. It just might save their life.”
Operation Iron Ruck recently became a partner of Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. The suicide prevention campaign is comprised of the governor’s office, the Alabama Legislature, several state departments, including the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama National Guard and numerous nonprofits.
“It speaks volumes that the Alabama and Auburn student veterans’ associations set aside their rivalry during the week of the Iron Bowl to work together in raising awareness about veteran suicide,” said Kent Davis, who serves as the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and co-chair of Alabama’s Challenge.”This march establishes a connectedness and level of support that has a lasting impact within the veteran community. I’m proud of both universities and all participants for the work they are doing to help raise awareness for veteran suicide.”
Alabama is home to approximately 400,000 veterans. Though veterans represent about 10 percent of the state’s population, Alabama veterans also represent a disproportionate 18 percent of suicides.
If you or a loved one are battling depression or having thoughts of suicide, you are encouraged to call The Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to trained counselors and access immediately available resources.