Vets marching for suicide awareness will deliver Gopher/Hawkeye game ball

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Sure, Minnesota and Iowa are rivals. But when it comes to supporting the country's military veterans, the state line fades in importance.

A group is marching from Minneapolis to Iowa City this week to focus attention on the high number of suicides among veterans. The "Ruck Marchers" organized by the University of Iowa Veterans Association left TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday and will deliver the game ball to officials at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday night.

In military parlance, a ruck march involves a brisk hike with a weighted backpack. The marchers headed to Iowa City are carrying 22 pounds of gear in their packs – to recognize the estimated 22 veterans per day who take their own lives.

The volunteers organized by the Iowa group are rucking in teams of six who take turns marching for six hours at a time. Altogether, they'll cover 286 miles. (Find their schedule here)

Rucker Drew Wherry explained his participation to the Daily Iowan this way:

“I’m doing it because I feel like a lot of this is for the people who couldn’t be here on Veterans Day, so we’re carrying their weight. It’s all about awareness and showing people they’re still veterans. There’s still people who need our help. The fight doesn’t always end, so we’re helping them and carrying them with us.”

What is in the 22-pound packs the ruckers are carrying? That varies for each veteran, who chose artifacts with personal significance.

Travis Arment told the Iowan his items include letters family members sent him while he was at sea with the Navy, adding "“They’re things that really get you through when things are tough.”

The ruck march is not exactly smooth sailing, given the major storm that was sweeping through the area Wednesday evening, complete with reports of funnel clouds in Iowa.

Plans call for all of the marchers to gather Saturday evening and march into Kinnick Stadium together. They will form a tunnel through which the players will run and then present the game ball to the officials.

Veteran suicides

Last month a 23-mile ruck march into St .Paul was held by veterans drawing attention to the suicide rate.

The figure of 22 veteran suicides per day comes from a 2013 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Earlier this year, the Washington Post scrutinized the statistics.

The San Jose Mercury News says suicides by service members have produced more casualties than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While awareness of the issue has led to expanded access to mental health care for veterans, the Mercury News reports experts say 17 of the 22 daily suicides involve vets who are not enrolled in the VA's health care system.

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