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Rucksack march planned to support veterans

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The rucksack marches organized by the nonprofit organization Active Heroes have been successful in raising awareness about veterans suicide rates. Organizers hope to raise awareness in Roswell, as well. (Submitted Photo)

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Registration is open for the first Roswell’s Salute to the Troops-End Veteran Suicide Rucksack March. The event takes place March 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Cielo Grande Recreation Area.

The march was a spur-of-the-moment idea by Frank Beeton, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Roswell.

“I just wanted to do something positive,” Beeton said. “I come from a family of veterans — I am not a veteran myself. I’ve got a lot of friends from back home (Virginia) that have fought, and some came back and were never the same again, or they felt insecure and unprotected coming back. I’ve had some friends that have committed suicide.

“There are 20 veterans a day that kill themselves in America. That’s an epidemic. They served us, now it’s our opportunity to serve them. We really need to show support for everybody who has given us the freedoms that we have in America.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Suicide Data Report 2005-2016, which was released September 2018, found that overall, rates of suicide were highest among younger veterans (ages 18-34) and lowest among older veterans (age 55 and older). However, because the older veteran population is the largest, this group accounted for 58.1 percent of veteran suicide deaths in 2016. Information regarding deaths among current service members was not included. The fact remains that on average about 20 current or former service members die each day — six have been in VA health care and 14 have not.

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“Given that I have a friend who is actively involved in Active Heroes and wanting to do something for the Navy Corpus Christie Flight School that’s been out here for the past couple of months, I decided to combine the two together and do a rucksack march to help with veterans suicide prevention and awareness,” Beeton said. “That’s what the nonprofit organization Active Heroes does. It’s a veterans-run organization and it’s a really good nonprofit.

“They are fiscally responsible and they put up all their information on the web page: what they receive, what they do, their IRS financial report is up there. Full disclosure on what they do and it’s a great program for veterans to utilize if they are in a situation where they are contemplating suicide. A lot of them are afraid to go to the VA because of negative repercussions. This organization, they actually talk directly to veterans that have been trained in suicide prevention. They are talking to somebody who knows where they are coming from and can fully help them without the fear of repercussion.”

While the organization does not have a branch in Roswell, the nonprofit has direct counseling links available over its webpage.

“They are looking for volunteers for more people and veterans that are willing to accept phone calls,” Beeton said. “They provide training for these people who want to volunteer. They also have a retreat in Kentucky that is on 147 acres. It’s a way for veterans to bring their families, come out, spend time in nature, away from electronics — they don’t have Wi-Fi on purpose because they want everybody involved in togetherness and away from the electronic world.”

Beeton’s friend, Sgt. Andy Springer of Active Heroes, is going to fly in from Virginia to be at the march.

“I want to make this a yearly event,” Beeton said. “We started it kind of late, given the government shutdown.”

In the few weeks Beeton had, he has achieved a lot.

“I am happy that my national charitable foundation for NATCA is co-sponsoring the event,” he said. “They are helping me as far as fundraising goes, and there are lots of local businesses that are really supportive and helpful. We’ve contacted Youth ChalleNGe; we’ve contacted NMMI (New Mexico Military Institute); the National Guard; we’ve contacted the recruiting offices for the military branches here in town. We look forward on having a big event at Cielo Grande. We do ask people to show up about 30 minutes early, especially if they haven’t registered. Because it will help the process. We’ll have opening remarks as well.”

Beeton is already looking ahead to next year. “We want to add things to it next year, like potentially a golf tournament prior to, and raising more awareness and having more time for preparation to get more businesses involved. For the first year we’re doing very well.”

Anybody who wants to join the march can register for free or as an ambassador to begin fundraising. Any ambassador who can raise $100 and complete the event can earn a patch commemorating the event. For more information, visit carrythefallen.org, call 575-347-8351 or email Frank_Beeton@yahoo.com.

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.