He lost five military teammates in a week to suicide. Now this veteran is trying to prevent more
The Idaho Statesman May 29, 2021
(Tribune News Service) — There’s something about the gym that has always felt like therapy to Jon Klipstein. The Army veteran has tried other avenues to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by two tours in Afghanistan, but fitness seemed to help the most.
He knows plenty of other veterans haven’t been as fortunate.
Klipstein told the Idaho Statesman that within days of returning from his first deployment to Afghanistan, five soldiers in his brigade died by suicide.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said in a phone interview. “I couldn’t believe we lost that many soldiers in the span of a week.”
The experience stuck with Klipstein, who left the Army in 2013. This year, he wanted to do something to remember veterans who’ve faced similar issues. That’s why he organized a 100-mile ruck challenge that he and three other veterans will take on over Memorial Day weekend in an effort to raise money and awareness for mental health issues and suicide among veterans.
Though now he’s mainly into lifting weights, Klipstein said one of his favorite activities in the Army was rucking — carrying a heavy pack while walking or hiking, typically at a faster pace. It’s a staple in the military, as soldiers are expected to shoulder heavy packs as they march. Many U.S. military programs, including Army Air Assault School and Army Ranger School, require participants to complete timed rucks.
“I haven’t rucked in years,” Klipstein said. “(The 100-mile challenge) was my way of saying I want to get back into it.”
He wanted the ruck to be more than just a physical challenge for himself, so Klipstein began looking for sponsors and donors to support the endeavor. The proceeds go to Mission 22, a nonprofit that provides treatment programs for veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other mental health issues. The organization takes its name from a 2012 study that found that 22 U.S. veterans died by suicide each day.
It’s a mission that hit close to home for Klipstein.
“I’ve had personal friends that I served with that couldn’t deal with their own demons,” he said. “... I wanted to do (the ruck on) Memorial Day weekend for those we’ve lost.”
He set a lofty fundraising goal of $10,000, collecting donations from individuals and businesses, including a Meridian gym, a Treasure Valley food prep company and a Boise real estate firm. By Thursday, he’d collected more than $3,400 for Mission 22. The funds will help launch a treatment program for veterans with PTSD and anxiety.
“We still have a ways to go towards our goal, but I still see it as a big accomplishment,” Klipstein said.
Klipstein is still accepting donations online through a page on his fitness supplement company’s website.
Klipstein and three fellow veterans will begin the ruck on Saturday on the Greenbelt, starting in Eagle near Eagle Road and State Street. Klipstein said they’ll head into Downtown Boise before retracing their steps to Eagle, covering 17 or more miles, depending on how everyone is feeling through the day.
The second and third days of the ruck will take them along roads in Boise and Meridian, where Klipstein plans to carry a flag promoting the Mission 22 cause.
“I hope people do stop and talk to us about it. The general population isn’t aware of the battles that these soldiers come back with,” Klipstein said.
It will be the first time Klipstein and fellow veteran Spencer Lynn, of Pittsburgh, have met in person. The two met through Klipstein’s UXO Supplements company. When Lynn saw Klipstein’s social media posts about the 100-mile ruck, he wanted in.
“Being a veteran myself, it kind of hit home to me with what he was doing,” said Lynn, who served in the Army. “I’ve always been into crazy fitness challenges, so I put two and two together.”
Klipstein said he initially planned to do the ruck alone but might consider making it a public event in the future. But it won’t be easy, he warned.
“I keep telling myself it’s a daunting challenge, and we’ve been training for it since February,” he said. “We’re doing three marathons back to back to back.
“I’ve seen people that are great runners that could not ruck,” Klipstein added. “I’ve seen people that are amazing strength athletes that cannot ruck. It’s a combination of endurance and strength — and mental (strength), especially.”
That makes it a fitting activity to raise money for mental health and suicide prevention. Both veterans said organizations like Mission 22 are invaluable to veterans trying to readjust to civilian life.
“Fortunately for me ... when I was getting out of the military, I had a great support system,” Lynn said. “But that’s not the case for everyone.”
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