A cadre of Huskers is continuing an annual tradition to raise awareness of veteran suicides.
One step at a time across nearly 157 miles, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Student Veterans of America chapter is participating in the eighth annual Things They Carry Ruck March. The event features student veterans, volunteers, family, friends and veterans from local communities delivering the ball to the host stadium for the annual Huskers-Hawkeyes football game — which this year is Nov. 24 at Nebraska’s 100-year-old Memorial Stadium.
The route between Iowa City and Lincoln is traditionally an even split — the visiting team walking the first half of the 304-mile sojourn to a handoff point at Freedom Rock in Menlo, Iowa, where the host squad takes over to deliver the ball in time for kickoff. Due to a logistics issue this year, student veterans from the University of Iowa were unable to participate.
That did not stop Nebraska from picking up the ball.
“This cause is too important to let fade away,” said Jenalee Wimer, a U.S. Marines veteran and senior animal science/pre-veterinarian major from West Point, Nebraska. “This is our chance to honor those veterans who we’ve lost to suicide. It’s a chance for a community of veterans to come together, realize that we are not alone, and inform the public.”
Wimer, who is president of the UNL Student Veterans of American chapter, and Makinsey Lonergan, the group’s secretary, worked to organize the event this year. Their planning allowed the Nebraska team to start walking on Nov. 19 from Freedom Rock — a 12-foot-tall boulder painted each year with a motif that honors military veterans.
Each day, the team covers up to 40 miles in two shifts. As they pass through communities along the route, the volunteers connect one-on-one with residents, media and anyone who wants to know more about the struggles veterans face after returning from deployments and leaving the armed services.
“This is my third year participating and it is an incredible experience,” said Lonergan. “It gives you a chance to memorialize your friends who have passed and is a special time for reflection that I look forward to each year.”
As they walk, each volunteer carries a backpack filled with 20 pounds and/or 20 items — a requirement that reflects on a Veteran Administration report that every day, 20 American veterans take their own lives.
Each day, the team is dedicating the route to a specific veteran lost to suicide. The name of that veteran is written on a Husker football and framed by the names of all those volunteers who participated in the ruck that day. Wimer and Lonergan plan to send the balls to the families of those veterans remembered.
For Wimer, the event has an even deeper meaning.
“I have one, a friend, I lost to suicide two years ago,” Wimer said. “It is such a common thing among veterans — it seems that we all have stories of a friend or someone we were close to who committed suicide.
“My friend is already gone and I can’t do anything about that. But, by participating in this ruck, maybe we can save another veteran from that road — it makes me feel like we are making a difference.”