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Alabama student veterans began a 150-mile ruck march from Tuscaloosa to Auburn on Wednesday, with an estimated 17 veterans losing their lives each day.
Fourth Annual Operation Iron Ruck – which includes students from the University of Alabama and Auburn University – kickstarted outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday and closes Saturday at Auburn’s Jordan-Hair Stadium before rival schools’ football teams face off in the Iron Bowl.
The 72-hour parade includes both school parades, most carrying a 17-pound rucksack, with donated items benefiting Alabama veterans.
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Slade Salmon, president of the University of Alabama Veterans Association and Clay Buchanan, president of the Auburn University Student Affairs Association, is leading the effort.
“The event spans three days and our objective is to raise public awareness of veteran suicide with the secondary purpose of raising donations to national, state and local veteran charities,” Salmon told LBL on March.
Salmon said the event was “a way for us to commemorate the 17 veterans who die each day from suicide,” and noted that they use the event to reconnect with those who served.
“I’m not good at getting in touch with a lot of the people I’ve served, but this time I’m trying to reach out,” Salmon said. “Isolation is the key to veteran suicide. Reaching those we serve is a catalyst for saving lives.”
Operation Iron Ruck has partnered recently The challenge of Alabama To prevent suicide among service members, veterans and their families.
“Many veterans, including myself, personally know another veteran or service member who has committed suicide,” Buchanan told LBL. “Through the collaboration of Operation Iron Ruck and the student veterans of Auburn and Alabama, it really shows that the veteran community is strong and committed to taking care of our brothers and sisters until 17 is zero.”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey expressed support for the March organizers’ efforts, saying, “As a nation, it is imperative that we never forget to give our support to the brave men and women who served our country in the military.”
“We must pay more attention to preventing suicide and support these courageous men and women after returning home, which is why I am so proud of our student veterans’ efforts to launch Operation Iron Ruck,” Ivy said. “Our military men and women put everything in place to ensure our independence, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. Alabama will always stand behind our veterans.”