Students host walk to raise awareness about veteran suicide

Posted on Apr 14 2016 - 7:00am by Maggie Martin

Ole Miss Student Veterans of America hosted the Mission 22 Awareness Walk on campus Wednesday.

The walk began and ended on the Circle, with the route covering 1.21 miles of campus. Around 60 people participated.

Before the walk, people involved with the university’s Veterans and Military Services gave speeches on the Lyceum steps to the participants. Twenty-two pairs of boots lined the steps as a remembrance and visual representation of the average number of veterans who commit suicide every day in the U.S.

Mission 22 is an organization named after that statistic. According to Michael Howland, coordinator of Veterans and Military Services and adjunct professor of legal studies at the university, the organization was started in 2014 by friends of his with the goal of bringing awareness to and combating the issue of veteran suicide.

“Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Many of them because of invisible disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury,” Howland said in his speech. “That’s 22 people. That’s two football teams a day. That’s a commercial airliner every 3 1/2 weeks. That’s a 9/11 event every 4 1/2 months.”

Aaron Rutkowski, president of OMSVA, also spoke of his personal connections to the cause. In 2015, he lost six of his military friends to suicide. Just this year, he has already lost 10.

“That is an outrageous increase,” Rutkowski said. “That is the reason we’re here.”

The event also had a guest speaker, retired two-tour Vietnam veteran Hollis Crowder. He spoke about his own personal struggles with PTSD, telling a story of when he went to register for classes in his university’s gymnasium and custodians decided to pull out more tables, giving him an unexpected reminder of his experiences in Vietnam.

“One of the tables’ top side hit the floor, and I hit the dirt,” Crowder said. “I was there for a few seconds and I finally looked up and there was a professor, and he had been to Vietnam, and he said, ‘You’ve just came back from the ‘nam, haven’t you?’”

Jacob McVey, social chairman for OMSVA, designed the T-shirts for the event. Howland expressed the importance of the T-shirts. According to Howland, it’s people’s time and support, not their money, that makes a difference.

“The hope is that a veteran will see all of you walking, in your shirts, and it will make the difference between them overcoming this or just becoming a statistic,” Howland said to participants. “Going forward, the next 14 years, approximately 112,000 military men and women will die by suicide. One is too many.”