Lance Hoey and his 15-year-old son, Connor, marched Saturday morning through three Oakland County cities hauling 22-pound rucksacks in subfreezing temperature with wind and snow whipping their faces.
The Hoeys, of Allen Park, and scores of other people — including Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier — participated in the the 5k Ruck 22 March to raise awareness of the roughly 22 U.S. veteran suicides that occur daily and to reflect on the sacrifices military members and their families make to serve.
“I’m a vet, so this is near and dear to my heart,” said Hoey, who served in the U.S. Army. “I was in Operation Desert Shield and have friends who never came back, and I have some friends who came back and were never the same.”
Fournier commended those who braved the mid 20-degree cold to attend the event.
“Thank you to all the great people who came out for such a great cause,” he said. “The number 22 is stuck in my head -- I think about it a lot. We need to bring attention to this serious issue, and we need to do more for our veterans who serve this country and protect our American values.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Robinson, 30, said he comes from a multi-generational military family and founded the event because he took issue with the high suicide rates of veterans.
“We are losing people every day to suicide caused by (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression and other mental health issues,” Robinson said. “It’s a big problem, especially when people come home and have nobody to talk to. Some of those deaths can be prevented.”
He said that last year, he went to Royal Oak City Commission to propose the event concept and “they were on board.”
This year, Hazel Park and Ferndale joined as well. Robinson said he spread the word through social media and posting flyers.
“Last year we had about 170 people show up,” he said. “This year we’ll probably have over 270 people — even in the cold. People will fight the cold for a good cause.”
All funds raised from the event go toward The Michigan World War II Legacy Memorial, and food donations are sent to Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 15 Support Center, Robinson said.
Royal Oak resident Brennan Mills, 29, marched with his wife, two friends and Great Dane.
Mills, who has two veteran brothers and is in the police academy, said more needs to be done to ensure soldiers are well taken care of when returning from combat.
“This march is the least we can do, and it still makes a difference,” he said. “People see us walking tall through their neighborhoods out in the cold, and that gets their attention.”
Hoey, the Army vet, said being a shoulder to lean on for a veteran and helping them seek mental health care “is the most important thing you could do.”
“Lending an ear can go a long way,” he said.
Contact reporter Omar Abdel-Baqui: 313-222-2514 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @omarabdelb
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