Three Danville men will strap on 45-pound ruck sacks and embark on a 22-mile ruck run Saturday from the Mississippi Valley Veterans Memorial in West Burlington to the New London Veteran Memorial Park.
To raise awareness of and money for Mission 22, a non-profit organization that works to combat veteran suicide named for the estimated 22 veterans who take their lives every day.
“It’s just a really cool organization that does a lot of good for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, and also their families as well,” said Sawyer Foster, 18, who, inspired by the military service of his grandfathers and uncles, joined the Army National Guard in November.
Joining him on the ruck will be Trenton Kruse, 20, who has been with the Air National Guard since 2017, and Kale Schuff, 18, who signed on for active duty in the Army in November.
Having known each other for the past several years, the three wanted to do something that would put their bodies to the test, and a ruck seemed like the perfect way to do it. Then they took it a step further.
“Then we decided to tie in an non-profit organization, which turned out to be Mission 22,” Foster said.
Foster learned of the organization through Instagram. Mission 22 works to provide treatment for veterans with PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other issues, as well as to raise awareness by building memorials and creating social impact and awareness for issues veterans face. It also has an ambassador volunteer program in which ambassadors educate the public on veterans issues, create community resources and help get veterans to treatment programs.
The three will depart from the Mississippi Valley Veterans Memorial at 7 a.m. Saturday and make their way along U.S. 34 to New London. Their goal is to make it in six hours.
They began planning for the ruck in April and posted a link on how to donate last month. Their goal initially had been to raise $1,000, but that goal was met within the first two days. They raised the goal to $2,000. As of Thursday, the fundraiser had garnered $2,050 in donations.
While the three haven’t struggled with PTSD themselves, they have heard of and seen the difficulties veterans face.
Kruse, who was drawn to the military both for the experience and the travel, recently returned from a deployment in Alaska. Through his experience working in security there, he’s seen the mental and physical toll military life can take.
“It’s one of the harder states up there and it happens a lot,” Kruse said. “You just see it happen. It’s so much stuff that happens mentally on the military side. Everybody can’t cope with that. … A lot of people don’t know the way out.”
Foster spoke of the culture shock military servicemen and women face when transitioning from military life to civilian life.
“You’re in the military and you have a purpose and you have brothers and sisters,” Foster said. “You might not have that at home on the civilian side, so it’s just figuring out how to deal with that and come back. It’s definitely hard for a lot of people.”
“Especially people that come back without transferable careers, like infantry jobs,” said Schuff, whose decision to join the Army arose from his love of country and a desire to protect its citizens. He will begin his basic training next month.
The three encouraged people to reach out to veterans who might be struggling.
“If you know someone, a simple thing like reaching out and being there for someone can just be a huge thing,” Foster said.
Schuff emphasized the importance of staying informed.
“(Some people) don’t know about how big of a deal it is and how big the number is,” Schuff said. “The 22 a day is a real thing.”
To donate, visit the Sawyer, Trenton and Kale’s Fundraiser for Mission 22 Facebook page.