Operation Iron Ruck Day proclaimed for UA, Auburn student veterans marching for suicide awareness
Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday formally offered her support to Operation Iron Ruck, during which approximately 80 students and support personnel from the University of Alabama Campus Veterans Association and Auburn University Student Veterans Association will travel on foot from Tuscaloosa to Auburn starting on Wednesday and culminating the day of the Iron Bowl.
The effort by student veterans at the Yellowhammer State universities aims to bring increased awareness to veteran suicides. The ruck march will specifically go from Bryant-Denny Stadium to Jordan-Hare Stadium, where this year’s rivalry game is being played.
Ivey has signed a proclamation declaring Saturday, November 30, 2019, as Operation Iron Ruck Day throughout the state of Alabama.
In a statement, she said, “Since our country’s inception, our military members have shown their patriotism, their bravery, and ultimately, their willingness to lay their lives on the line for the sake of protecting our freedoms. That sacrifice does not end in combat, because even when our men and women return safely home, many continue to struggle with the impacts of war.”
“Sadly, in our country, suicide claims the lives of around 22 veterans each day. I urge Alabamians and people all across our country to continue fighting for those who fight for us. I am proud to see this committed group of students from Alabama and Auburn come together to bring awareness to this issue facing veterans in our country,” the governor concluded.
The group of student veterans, led by Micah “Slade” Salmon of UA and Auburn’s Justin Schwab, will each haul 22-pound rucksacks containing donated items that the students will deliver to the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alexander City and Three Hots and a Cot, an organization that assists homeless veterans. The items include socks, gloves and other winter clothing, toiletries and canned goods. The march is about 150 miles.
“Operation Iron Ruck is about the student veterans from both Auburn and Alabama coming together during Iron Bowl week for a much greater purpose… There are roughly 22 veterans per day that take their own lives in this country, and the state of Alabama is the second largest contributor to this statistic,” Schwab outlined. “Our goal is to bring that number down to zero, but we cannot do it without help.”
Salmon added, “We ask everyone to reach out to any veteran they know and see how they are doing. We also want every veteran out there to know that there are avenues for help and still plenty of us that care about them.”
The national headquarters of The American Legion and The American Legion of Alabama are sponsoring the student veterans and providing logistical support along the route of the march.
“It is fantastic that the Alabama and Auburn student veterans’ associations set aside their rivalry to work together to raise awareness about the veteran suicide rate by marching the 150 miles from stadium to stadium,” Kent Davis, Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner, stated. “The ruck sacks these veterans will carry symbolize the 22 veterans lost each day to suicide.”
Close to 400,000 veterans call the state of Alabama home, meaning about one in ten Alabamians have served our country in the armed forces.
Alabama veterans facing their own struggles or loved ones of veterans battling post-war effects are encouraged to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to trained counselors and access immediately available resources.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn