A soldier’s fight doesn’t always end after a deployment closes out. Instead many men and women serving in our military find themselves facing a tough battle long after their return home.
It was estimated in 2012 that 7,500 former military personnel died by suicide. In the same year the number of active duty veterans succumbing to suicide was higher than those killed in combat.
A study released by the VA in 2013 when covering suicides among veterans, showed every day 22 veterans, would die by suicide. Breaking it down to one every 65 minutes.
With this number being the highest reached to date following tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, United States Marine Veteran Cody Stiles began brainstorming ideas of how to bring awareness to this issue. Having served deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan himself during his 2007 to 2011 service years, Stiles knew the struggles that can follow personally.
“I’ve been thinking about doing something for a few years myself,” Stiles began. “In the beginning I didn’t know if it would be by doing something on my own or reaching out past that.”
Stiles reached out to a friend to gain his thoughts on the possibility of walking 22 miles alongside him in an effort to show support to those struggling daily.
“When I asked him how motivated he was feeling and if he would walk 22 miles with me he said sure,” said Stiles. “He even mentioned having his wife follow behind us to blast some tunes. That’s kind of where it started.”
With the biggest goal originally being to make a statement, he felt walking 22 miles would get the point across.
In 2013 a group by the name of Mission 22 was organized with the goal of helping veterans know an army exists behind them to help get them the treatment they may be in need of. Mission 22 brings veterans, family members and community members together to make them part of the mission to help heal America’s veterans in a time they may need it most.
“I’ve watched military friends suffer,” said Stiles. “You go looking on Facebook for a friend you haven’t seen in awhile and you find out this happened. Or an old military buddy calls you out of the blue and tells you bad news. My friends have lost their friends the same way. This is a problem.”
As the idea for a walk grew within his mind, Stiles reached out to local friend and Air Force Master Sergeant Amy Carpenter to ask for her support in putting something together to raise awareness. With both Stiles and Carpenter having dealt firsthand losing unit members and friends to suicide, they began to put together an event to let veterans know they are not alone in the daily struggles that may follow their time serving our country.
Putting together a Facebook group titled “22 Mile Walk ;IGY6”, the announcement came of an organized walk to begin in Lineville on Saturday, Nov. 9 just before Veteran’s Day. The route for the 22-mile walk will leave from the Lineville Park at 8 a.m. where walkers will travel through Clio, then taking the Clio blacktop into Allerton, going past the Round Barn site and will finish at the Freedom Rock on the southwest corner of the square in Corydon.
To date the group has grown to 700 members with several asking how to donate or help with the event while many others are planning to walk along with Stiles and Carpenter.
“I thought if we had 10 people join I would be tickled pink,” said Stiles. “I never expected this page and the support to grow like it has.”
Stiles mentioned one gentleman contacted them stating he has set his own personal goal of raising $5,000 for the cause to be donated and hopes to bring 100 people along with him to participate in the walk.
“He contacted me on day 2 after announcing the walk,” Stiles added.
With the route being established as 13 miles traveled on hard surface and nine miles on gravel, plans for snack stations along the way are being made. Anyone wishing to donate fruit, peanut butter sandwiches or other snacks for the break stations are able to do so.
Those planning to join in the walk have the freedom to travel at their own pace and go their own distance.
“We have some planning to walk the entire 22 miles with us while others are joining in to walk as far as they can,” Stiles said. “This won’t be easy, but we are encouraging everyone to set their own pace. In fact I have a cousin that runs marathons so she is planning to run the 22-mile distance.”
“I am doing the full 22 miles myself, I don’t care if I have to crawl to finish it,” said Stiles. “This isn’t about everyone going 22 miles though. For some people that isn’t a realistic goal and just their response to want to join or be involved is raising the awareness we wanted.”
There will be first responders along the way available if needed along with shuttles that will help transport people to their vehicles as well.
“I have to give a huge personal thanks to Amy for all her help with this,” Stiles mentioned. “She’s been great and everyone has gotten behind this.”
“People have been reaching out to us and it has been awesome,” Stiles added. “You think about it like this where I grew up in a town of less than 100 people in Clio, Iowa and right now I have over 700 people following something on Facebook we began. Awareness is happening.”
Several have asked about making this an annual event. At this time no definite plans are set however Stiles believes it needs to be put on annually and would like to aim for that goal.
“The main thing I’m wanting is this to be a positive event,” said Stiles.
“The community has been very supportive and I’ve had people I’ve never even met reach out wanting to help and just say thank you for raising awareness,” said Carpenter. “That makes it feel like this event has already been a success.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting new people and seeing our already close-nit community become a little bit closer,” Carpenter added.A fundraiser is currently underway with the sale of t-shirts featuring a design by Wayne County Marine Rob Davis of Allerton. All money that is raised through the fundraiser and donations will be donated to a local VA program to help provide assistance to local veterans.
Anyone looking for more information on the event or looking for ways to donate can reach out to Stiles or Carpenter via Facebook on the 22 Mile Walk ;IGY6 group page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2095559654085042/
To order a t-shirt for the event you can follow this link: https://www.customink.com/fundraising/22-mile-walk-igy6?share=4931569339791501&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_content=22-mile-walk-igy6&utm_campaign=desktop-post-purchase-share-v1-2&ref=facebook_social_desktop-post-purchase-share-v1-2&side=front&type=1&zoom=false&fbclid=IwAR3qbXvJLq6yhA4ITslxaPDa3xefCM2gZtamKgDPQB97SyQ7dn7htyZBcwA