Guardsmen in Minn. raise awareness of military suicides

By DEREK SULLIVAN | Post-Bulletin | Published: November 17, 2014

ROCHESTER, Minn. (Tribune News Service) — A little snow was not going to stop a group of U.S. Army National Guardsmen from bringing awareness to the rising number of military men and women committing suicide.

Ruck Up for Rochester is a group of concerned citizens who ran 23 miles in cold, wet and snowy weather to highlight the fact that an average of 23 veterans commit suicide every day. Rod Haworth helped design the course, which started and ended at Soldiers Field.

"We wanted the route to go through neighborhoods as well as downtown, so people could see what was happening," Haworth said. "We got a lot of honks. … It was nice to tell people at gas stations what we were doing and why we were doing it, why it's important and why we have to pay attention."

A ruck is a military exercise in which the runner carries a weight (traditionally 35 pounds) on this back. Saturday's participants did not have to wear the weighted backpack, but most did, including Jeff Thompson. He also attached two small flags to his pack as well as a cardboard sign, which read, "23 Veterans Commit Suicide Each Day."

"I had one of my best friends commit suicide," Thompson said. "It means a lot to me, so right away, I agreed to do it. I'm also willing to support anyone who needs help. I feel like I've probably saved two of my friends from suicide. It's a big thing for me."

Another message the runners shared was their military "brothers and sisters" should not feel alone in their fights with suicidal thoughts.

"There isn't one person who is in this fight by themselves," Haworth said. "We're all in this together."

Haworth said some cold weather wasn't going to deter him from running the 23 miles.

"We call it 'embracing the suck.' And that's what we did. We looked at the weather reports. We see what's happening. Even in combat situations, you look at the weather," he said. "This is Minnesota. This isn't our first day on the job. We were ready for this."

While the course fired up Haworth, Thompson admitted a 23-mile ruck is a long, painful run.

"I'm not going to lie; it was pretty tough," he said. "Once we got past the 18 mile marker, my feet were hurting. My feet are hurting now (Saturday afternoon). I'm hurting."

Haworth felt the run was successful and the runners got the message out. Now, they hope the number of suicides go down.

"We can't believe it how high the number is," Haworth said. "We want to think that we are better than that, but we're an organization of people. People are our most important resource, and we have to protect it. Everyone was really shocked by those numbers. Because of programs that are coming into place and things that the Army is doing with resilience training and building, it's making it easier to ask for help."

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