CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo – Over 180 service members serving in the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) strapped up their boots and packed their rucks in preparation for a road march at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, July 29.
The march concluded with no badges meeting each marcher at the end, but something potentially more meaningful, as they participated in the second iteration of the 22K for 22 a Day Suicide Awareness March.
While the Soldiers ensured their rucks met the minimum 22 kilogram weight limit, the weight on their shoulders pale in comparison to what some Soldiers and Veterans bear on theirs – the thought of suicide.
For Gordon Pullen, a retired Army master sergeant and current site manager for Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions at Camp Bondsteel, bringing awareness to the challenges veterans face when they return home is an important issue.
“We are losing service members at an alarming rate due to suicide and any light shed on the subject is a good thing,” said Pullen, a native of Clearwater, Florida. “We look at suicide as a weakness and Soldiers are reluctant to come forward and share. The issue is not something new, it’s been around since Vietnam and before. In my opinion, we need to create an environment so someone can come forward and share without causing damage to their careers.” -- For a write up on Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions efforts to organize the March - CLICK HERE ---
The first march, conducted in June 2016, began when one of Pullen’s employees approached him after a friend had committed suicide.
“One of my armed guards approached me, his name was Ian Long and he was a former Marine and this Marine had just lost a good friend to suicide,” Pullen said. “Ian asked if we could do a roach march and donate the proceeds to a worthy cause.”
The Navy Seal Foundation was chosen for the donations because 96 percent of donations go where they should go, to the Marines and Sailors of the fallen, and to honor Long’s Marine service, Pullen said.
For the second iteration, Pullen chose the Rangers Lead the Way Fund, an organization that provides financial support to U.S. Army Rangers and the families of those who have died, have been disabled or who are currently serving in harm’s way around the world.
“Well, I’ll have to say I’m a little biased. I’m a U.S. Army Ranger and was a Ranger Instructor in the Benning Phase and Florida Swamp Phase of training,” said Pullen, who graduated from Ranger School in 1972. “The history of the American Ranger is a long and colorful one that dates back some 300 years. Rangers are a very big part of the history of our country and they continue to take the fight to the enemy to this day.”
It’s with that Ranger background that the ruck march itself was also dedicated to the memory of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, a Ranger who was killed in action in Afghanistan on July 12, 2018.
Pullen also feels it is important to include allied and partner nations that comprise KFOR.
“Suicide isn’t just an issue amongst American Soldiers, just because you don’t see it or hear about it, doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Pullen said.
Multi-National Battle Group – East has taken that approach of international inclusion to heart, particularly within the 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Unit Ministry Team.
“Suicide is a global phenomenon and one that all militaries and countries have to face for those who serve; this march is a great way to recognize that,” said Capt. Nathan Graeser, the 79th IBCT’s chaplain. “Suicide is one of those issues that no one person, branch of service or military can face alone. Together we are stronger and can help make sure we don’t lose anyone in our ranks, together we march.”
Courses like Applied Suicide Intervention Skills are offered at Camp Bondsteel to all KFOR members for Soldiers to learn to listen for signs of suicide to make sure we help keep people alive in our ranks, Graeser said.
“Treating thoughts of suicide and untreated mental health pain is good for the whole,” said Graeser. “We must all be willing to get help if we need it. This march is a reminder that no matter what you are facing, you are not alone. There is not hardship, circumstance, disappointment or failure that cannot be redeemed.”
Excerpts from story on Torres AES below
By Global Security Staff
There are little words for the often shocking and traumatic impact that takes place when combat veterans unexpectedly take their own lives. It is a widespread problem facing the US military community, often bringing disastrous consequences and unspeakable loss.
The pains, losses and dangers of combat are known to take an often invisible, yet powerful toll upon servicemembers and families who risk all in war.
Given the pervasiveness of this problem, International security company Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions is planning to host a commemorative march on Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo - to remember and honor servicemembers who have committed suicide.
The event, slated to take place on July 21, 2018, is called “22K for 22 a day” to engender broad support, raise money and show respect for the 22 veterans who kill themselves every day.
Hundreds of participants will participate in a 22-kilometer march carrying 22 kilos, raising money for charities committed to helping prevent veteran suicide. The effort seeks to broaden support for the cause and help inspire at times needed intervention for those at risk, said Wayne Hales, Project Manager, Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions....."