Alabama, Auburn will unite for a four-day, 150-mile Iron Ruck trail supporting veteran suicide awareness

To raise awareness about veteran suicide, the University of Alabama and Auburn University will participate in a ruck march beginning Wednesday and ending at Bryant-Denny Stadium for the Iron Bowl.

In Operation Iron Ruck, veterans from both schools will participate in the four-day, 150-mile (241-kilometer) return march from Auburn to Tuscaloosa while carrying 22-pound backpacks. The march begins on Wednesday at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn and concludes on Iron Bowl Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

These backpacks contain donated items that students will deliver to Bill Nichols State Veterans Home, Mission 22, Tuskegee Veteran’s Assisted Living Centers, and Three Hots and a Cot.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for veterans after 9/11 in the US. Since 2001, 125,000 veterans have taken their own lives. Since 9/11, more than 6,000 veterans have died by suicide every year.

Alabama veterans make up 10% of the state’s population while also representing a disproportionate number of suicides, accounting for 18% of all the state’s suicide deaths.

Gov. Kay Ivey signed one in support of the march proclamation declared November 23, 2022 as Operation Iron Ruck Day in the state of Alabama.

“The sacrifice of our military never ends in combat. Even as our military members return home, many are struggling with the effects of war in exchange for our protected freedoms,” Ivey said. “To see our state’s student veterans put aside their college rivalries, unite, and participate in this challenging journey to create greater awareness of veteran suicide is admirable and shows our loyalty to the veteran community in Alabama is noticeably strong. I am proud to offer my support to Operation Iron Ruck. We must always keep fighting for those who fight for us, and Alabama will always stand by our veterans.”

Operation Iron Ruck recently partnered with Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. The Suicide Prevention Campaign consists of the Office of the Governor, the Alabama Legislature, several state agencies including the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama National Guard and other nonprofit organizations.

“It speaks volumes that the Alabama and Auburn fraternities put aside their rivalry during Iron Bowl week to work together to raise awareness about veteran suicide,” said Kent Davis, who serves as commissioner for the Alabama Department of Veterans acts affairs and co-chair of Alabama’s Challenge. “This march creates a bond and a level of support that is having a lasting impact within the veterans’ community. I am proud of both universities and all participants for the work they are doing to raise awareness about veteran suicide.”

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