GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Early Saturday morning, organizers with Danger 22 set up shop early at West Side Park ready to spread awareness for their cause.
“We were all affected greatly by someone we know committing suicide,” member Jourdan Natalie said.
The third annual Until Valhalla Ruck March kicked off after spending a year away.
“Last year with 2020 and COVID and stuff, everybody stayed home,” said Kevin Cuttill, founder of Crusaders for Veterans.
Military members, veterans and other locals laced up their running shoes and marched with a twist, with women competitors wearing 30 pounds in their rucksacks and men carrying 40 pounds.
“It’s wonderful to see them come back and we cheer them on and show our support,” said Theresa Danko with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
To add to the challenge, marchers made their way along the Mississippi Coast to complete the course.
“We do a length of 22 kilometers for the 22 veterans that commit suicide a day,” Natalie said.
The march aimed at raising awareness for suicide prevention and health care among the country’s bravest men and women.
“We have people that stop us on the side of the street like, ‘What are y’all doing?,’ and they stop the ruckers and they tell us they spread the word,” Natalie said.
Organizations also pitched tents to share health care information with veterans and their loved ones.
“When you team up, that’s when you get the most results. Not one organization is going to stop the problems that veterans have,” Cuttill said.
While the issue gets special attention after the march, officials hope residents stay aware of the ongoing problem.
“We want to make sure everybody is aware. Looks for the signs and symptoms and helps those folks out,” said Stephen East, Director of Business Development for the Gulfport Behavioral Health System.