22-mile walk raises awareness of veteran suicide

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Photo Gallery | A 22-mile walk for a cause

BRATTLEBORO — Legs were sore and feet were hurting after a 22-mile walk from Brattleboro to Putney and back.

Despite any pain that was endured during the march, several members of the community completed half or the full distance for a cause. Second Lt. Lauren Mabie, 22, of Brattleboro, organized the event Saturday, Jan. 2, to raise awareness about the 22 veterans that commit suicide each day. Veterans, friends, community members and those that have lost loved ones to suicide walked the distance with Mabie and expressed their concern with the statistic.

"Military suicide unfortunately is a very serious pertinent issue," said First Sgt. Donald Spencer who is a veteran with 37 years of service, 26 years of it on active duty. "With the current statistic, there are more than 8,000 people a year who are dying, which is more than we have lost in the entire Iraq and Afghanistan conflict."

Spencer, of Guilford, walked the entire 22 miles and led the pack without stopping along with a fellow veteran, Wesley Clements. At one point Spencer was about 3.3 miles ahead of the pack, as the majority of the group took rest stops at 1089 Putney Rd., where Friendly's was located, at the KOA Campground, the Putney Food Co-op and the Brattleboro Recreation Department.

Spencer said he personally knew veterans who have taken their own lives and believes that walks like Saturday's bring awareness to the issue.

"During this walk I'll be thinking of the people I've worked with, the people I've been able to help and unfortunately the people that I haven't been able to help," said Spencer.

Mabie first heard of the statistic when she was a cadet in the ROTC program at American University and continued to investigate the issue during her senior year of college. She graduated from the university with a bachelor's degree in Internationals Relations and this past May, Lauren was commissioned as a Second Lt. in the Air Defense Artillery Branch. On Jan. 3, a day after the 22-mile walk, she hopped on a military transport to Baumholder, Germany, where she expects to stay for at least three years. Her work will involve radar surveillance of the skies and she will work with the Patriot missile system.

This figure — 22 veterans a day — comes from the Department of Veteran Affairs 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed the death certificates from 21 states from 1999 to 2011. The most commonly cited figures from the report calculated a percentage of suicides identified with veterans out of all suicides in death certificates from the 21 states during the project period, which turned out to be 22 percent. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, about 13 percent of U.S. adults are veterans. The report applied that percentage against the number of suicides in the U.S. in a given year and divided by the number of days in a year. The report came up with 22 veteran suicides a day.

A group of about 30 people set off from the Brattleboro Union High School at 9 a.m. Saturday morning and about half of the group made it to the halfway point, the Putney Food Co-op just past noon.

"I'm amazed that we made it here so quickly, and we have a good group of people who will be heading back to do the full 22 miles," said Mabie.

She noted that the walk alone led to conversations about what future work may be done locally in regards to veteran suicide. "If anyone wants to donate, the American Foundation for Veteran Suicide Prevention is a great organization to donate to and any others that really help veterans," said Mabie.

Representatives from other organizations made an effort to show their support for the event by making a brief appearance. Don Long, the Commander of the Post 5 American Legion, and Michael Root, from Expert Exchange, showed up to the event to show their support and both hope to follow up with the event.

"We're terribly aware of the need and we're trying to establish some sort of fund that would be able to help veterans," said Long.

Expert Exchange seeks to empower underprivileged families via skills training and enhanced financial inclusion. The founder of Expert Exchange and U.S. Army veteran, Anthony Macie, has been in Cambodia since November 2014 building relationships, establishing support systems and identifying underprivileged but motivated individuals in need of sponsorship. Since Macie could not participate in the walk, his mother, Lori Macie, and Root, who is an Expert Exchange board member, made a point to participate in the walk.

Root, 32, of Vernon, is a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and spent one year in Istanbul on special duty. Root said that Expert Exchange would like to make the 22-mile walk an annual awareness event in the community.

"I hear about the statistic all the time, but this was the first time I saw someone step up and do something like this," said Root.

Greg Worden, Brattleboro Rotary Club president, also walked part of the event and said that he had heard of Mabie's event when she volunteered to help sell Christmas trees with the Rotary Club on Christmas Eve, 2015. John Kohler volunteered the same day as Mabie and when he heard of her event, he made it out and walked a little over three miles.

"The statistic '22' says that we need to do more for those people who are giving their time and service, whether you agree with the wars or not, we need to support the people that are serving for us," said Kohler. "You give up a lot when you're in the military." Kohler served as a private first class.

Additional veterans that walked during the event included a Vietnam Veteran and Sgt. Herbert Meckle.

"Since I've been back, I've lost three of my friends to suicide," said Meckle, whose wife, Regina, is an American Gold Star Mother, which means she belongs to the organization that was formed in the United States shortly after World War I to provide support for mothers who lost sons or daughters in the war. Regina's son, Kyle Gilbert, 20, died in 2003 when an Iraqi vehicle opened fire on his unit in Baghdad.

"If people know a veteran, family member or friend, and they see something that's not quite right, they should get involved, even if it's just slipping them a phone number," said Regina Meckle. "Support them and let them know we're not forgetting what they did for our country." Regina recently endured a foot injury and could not participate in the event, but she showed her support by passing out water and snacks throughout the course.

The full 22 miles was completed by 13 individuals and two dogs by 3:48 p.m. Mabie completed the full 22 miles while wearing a 40-pound ruck sack that Meckle lent to her.

"I have lost loved ones in the military and I have also lost loved ones to suicide and I want to support this group and I think it's important that Lauren is bringing the communication gap to the forefront," said Carly Chickering, who made a sign for the event and walked part of the course. "I want to learn how to speak to veterans and also want to help others bridge that gap between civilians and veterans."

For other ways to give to this cause, Mabie suggests visiting https://www.afsp.org/ways-to-give

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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