Shepherd's Men: Running to Save the Next Generation of War Veterans
LYNCHBURG (WSET) -- For 22 kilometers a day, with 22 pound flak jackets, they run for the estimated 22 veterans that commit suicide every day in the United States. They call themselves Shepherd's Men, and they descended on Lynchburg Tuesday evening.
Their financial goal is to raise $1 million dollars... but their real goal is to save lives.
"It's grueling, but the pain that I'm feeling can in no way match the pain of the loved one that is going through either PTSD or TBI," says Madison Heights native and U.S. Marine Troy Campbell.
The money that they are raising would go towards the SHARE Military Initiative at the Shepherd's Center in Atlanta, which is a 12-week program that treats both the psychological and physiological effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
The Shepherd's Men have run 55 miles since they began in Boston Saturday, and they say that raising awareness about this ugly aspect of war is just as crucial as raising money.
"When you're out there, you have mortars going off, you have explosions, small arms fire," says Jarrad Turner, who served for 10 years in Iraq. "You see a lot of brutal things. It's hard to come back to that."
Turner was medically discharged after an RPG attack. He needed 5 surgeries from his injuries, but he says the invisible scars cut him the deepest.
"I have traumatic brain injury, double vision, neuropathy, vertigo, and PTSD," he says. "I couldn't hold my child for a long time."
The hardest part is watching his brothers fall, long after they've come home from war.
"This year, I buried my 10th fellow brother in arms, Steven Cruz, to suicide," says Turner.
Turner was one of the lucky ones who found the Shepherd's Center. It turned his life around, and now he wants to pay it forward.
"If I gotta run, if I gotta crawl, even if I gotta shuffle, I'm doing this run," he says, with emotion in his eyes. "I'm proud to say that the Shepherd Center made a difference in my life, and all I want to do is make sure that it makes a difference in the lives of my brothers and sisters."
This is the third year of the Shepherd's Men Run. From Lynchburg, they'll run to their next leg in Knoxville Tennessee, and will eventually arrive in Atlanta, Georgia on April 3rd. In each of the 10 cities they are expected to stop in, the participants will meet with local veterans' groups.
While in Lynchburg, the Shepherd's Men had dinner with veterans at the American Legion Post 16. They were greeted with smiles, hugs, and a donation of $1,200 to contribute to the cause.
The SHARE Military Initiative is completely donor-funded. To date, no graduates of the 12-week program have been lost to suicide. To donate or learn more, click here.