For University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior child, youth and family studies major Jake Post, taking action to raise awareness for veteran suicide is just an extension of his service as a student veteran.
Most recently, Post, a Marine Corps veteran who served active duty from 2011 to 2015, said he has been organizing the 2019 “The Things They Carry” Ruck March. The march will begin at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Nov. 20 and end at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 29.
Post said the main goal of the march is to raise awareness for veteran and military member suicide.
“I have friends that have suffered because of [suicide], whether they took their lives or they know somebody that did,” Post said. “You start to question yourself. ‘What could I have done, I should have been there. I should have recognized this guy was in trouble.’”
According to the Military and Vetern Success Center website, the ruck march covers 322 miles from Iowa City, Iowa, to Lincoln. Each volunteer or group of volunteers covers about 20 miles per shift. The marchers also carry 20 pounds of weight in their packs as they march, to signify the 20 veterans lost daily to suicide. Post said that shifts are split into a.m. and p.m. sections, with other volunteers following the marchers in vehicles to ensure their safety.
Post said the march has a mix of student veterans, older veterans and those who simply had family members in the military.
Rodrigo Venegas, a sophomore construction management major, said he served four years in the Marines, and this will be his second year participating in the ruck march. In his first year, he said he marched from his unit with Post, who is his current roommate, and Post’s older brother.
“They made me feel a camaraderie that you kind of feel like you lose when you transition out of the military,” Venegas said. “You have people honking at you because you’re carrying the flags; it’s a special thing.”
Unfortunately, Post and Venegas said nearly everyone who has served knows of a fellow veteran who has taken their own life.
“I know a few guys that have struggled and are still struggling,” Venegas said. “As a Marine, we’re kind of built to not want to ask for help.”
Post said the epidemic of veteran suicide has impacted him personally as one of his family members died by suicide. He said the experience continues to wreak havoc on him and his family.
“In the Marine Corps, you’re trained to be an emotionless machine … Post said. “You forget how [to] regulate emotion; you forget how to be a normal person. It’s a completely different world. It’s hard for people, especially when you get out and you go from four years of having your best friends with you at all times to having nobody.”
Post said another difficult aspect for veterans returning home is having a great amount of worldly experience but somehow feeling inept in everyday life. He said his own platoon had traveled to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Bahrain, Singapore, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“One of our biggest enemies that we are facing is suicide,” Venegas said. “It’s really hard to transition from your everyday life in the military, especially coming to college.”
Post said the march is important to him personally because it allows him to reconcile with his own feelings, reflect with others about their service and pay tribute to those who have taken their own lives after protecting others.
“It’s special because you’re out there in God’s country; you’re in some beautiful areas, and it’s quiet out there in nature,” he said.
Post said there is still time to volunteer to march, even after the event has already begun. If people aren’t interested in marching or being a safety driver, Post said the Student Veterans Organization also accepts donations of money or supplies so they can continue to host events like the annual ruck march.
Since the ruck march will end at Memorial Stadium, the final group of volunteers will be honored on the field at the Nebraska vs. Iowa football game, which Post said will also go a long way to help spread the word of the ruck march.
“I just need people to help me spread the word and just shout it from the mountaintops,” he said. “The more publicity on this, the better.”
Editors Note: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255 and is available 24 hours, seven days a week. Students can set up an appointment at UNL's Counseling and Psychological Services at 402-472-7450.