‘I will walk every step’: Army veteran on 1,800-mile journey to raise suicide awareness
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Capt. Greg Washington had left the military and was at a low point in his life in 2011. He was contemplating suicide.
A call asking to go window shopping by his young cousin saved his life and started his healing journey.
“Everyone that I meet, I challenge them, think about that one friend, family member, loved one, battle buddy that you haven’t talked to in a while and call and check on them. You never know, you might be that angel that my cousin was to me,” he said.
Washington, 39, stopped by Augusta this week as he continues his 1,800-mile “A Walk To Honor” through 11 states to raise awareness for veteran suicide. He began his journey about 45 days ago in April from Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and will be arriving at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point for Sept. 11.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, 6,435 U.S. veterans died from suicide in 2018. The average number of veteran suicides per day is 17.6.
“It was an uphill battle, it still is. We are faced with obstacles along the way but being able to have hope, being able to know that you are not alone, has been my biggest key,” he said. “My family, my friends they have been my biggest support system and the biggest help in me fighting those internal battles that we do on a daily basis.”
Washington graduated from West Point in 2005 and was a freshman at the military academy when 9/11 occurred. He was commissioned as an infantry officer and was stationed in Germany before being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
During his time at West Point, he met 2nd Lt. Emily Perez and Capt. Scott Pace, whom he described as his two best friends. Pace, a troop commander with the 82nd Airborne Division, died in Afghanistan when his OH-58D Kiowa Warrior crashed after being hit by Taliban fire in 2011, the Army News Service reported.
Perez, a lieutenant and medical officer member of the 4th infantry division, died while deployed in Iraq when an improvised explosive device hit her convoy. The Army News Service reported Perez was the first African-American female officer in U.S. military history to die in combat.
Washington wants to raise awareness about veteran suicides but also wants to honor and remember his friends through his journey of 65 days of walking and 71 days of visits.
“My journey fighting through depression, fighting through PTSD, fighting through chronic pain and fighting that survivor’s remorse of losing my two best friends, they are my reason why,” Washington said. “This is my way of honoring my two best friends to ensure their names live on forever.”
He is familiar with the Augusta area, because he was stationed at Fort Gordon. On Thursday, he stopped to talk to a group of veterans at Forces United downtown after talking to a group of soldiers Wednesday night. He is hoping to lead discussions about mental health and break the stigmas around it.
Victoria Hann, president and CEO of Forces United, said Washington is an inspiration and a warrior for going on this journey and being able to tell his story.
“He is taking this on as a personal challenge. He is a warrior, who has contemplated suicide, so he comes from a real and true place of understanding,” she said. “We want to celebrate anyone who is bringing awareness to those things that we focus on on a day-to-day basis.”
Hann said they try to help veterans any way they can, either with mental health, education, benefits or housing and homeless prevention. She said Washington put it best by saying, “don’t make a permanent solution from a temporary situation.”
“Mental health and how we feel can be temporary if we move ourselves in the right direction,” she said. “We have to start talking about it. So many times, our tough warriors, they are taught to be tough and to not show emotion.”
Washington, who is 450 miles into the walk, will continue his journey to Columbia, S.C., next before going up the East Coast until reaching West Point, N.Y. He hopes this walk of honor is able to help someone along the way.
“If there is one person out there I need to meet, I need to shake hands with, I need to let them know that it’s going to be OK, that their life matters and that suicide is not the way and it never will be, I will walk every step of this journey,” he said.
(c)2021 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)
Visit The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) at chronicle.augusta.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.