© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Walk Highlights Military’s Struggle With Suicide Rate

Dean S. Acheson photo

ST. GERMAIN – The co-founder of a fledging non-profit organization that seeks to build public awareness about the high rate of suicides among former and current members of the nation’s military said the death of a cousin led to his involvement in Operation: 23 to 0.

Dan Borchers drove from Hugo, Minn., to St. Germain to support Saturday’s Ruck’N St. Germain march, which saw members and supporters of the Operation: 23 to 0 Northwoods WI Chapter march along State Highway 70 for 8.5 miles.

“I lost a cousin who was a Navy corpsman to suicide about five years ago,” Borchers said of his involvement. “This was an issue that wasn’t readily talked about until you have a personal experience with it and you find out what the numbers are. And how prolific an issue it is. So we just wanted to get together and try to combat this issue.”

Appropriately enough, the fourth annual St. Germain ruck took place on Armed Forces Day. This was the local chapter’s first major event since becoming affiliated last January with the charter organization based in Minnesota. The St. Germain chapter is the first such one in Wisconsin.

The term “ruck” is a military term for a brisk march with a pack on.

Saturday’s march started from the St. Germain Community Park and went west on Highway 70 for about two miles before returning to the war memorial in St. Germain. From there, marchers headed east another two miles and then back for a total of 8.5 miles. A cookout, bake sale and raffle drawings followed. Of the dozens who took part, a few pushed strollers; a couple were in uniform; some, like Borchers, were not military at all, but were there to support the mission of helping those hurting, whether military veterans or active-duty personnel.

Local chapter president Thomas Stoltman explains that the first number of “23 to 0” stands for the average number of suicides each day – which, until recently, stood at 22 veterans and 1 active duty military -- and the second number for the goal of zero suicides. The overall number has dropped to 20, according to latest estimates by the Department of Veterans Affairs. But many believe the number is underreported to the VA. No matter the actual number, it’s “entirely too high” said Stoltman, who served in the Marine Corps. They are not forgotten, he said of struggling vets and active-duty members. “We are here to show support and have resources for them to try help them cope with issues such as PTSD and other service related issues that plague our men and women in uniform.”

Groups like the Northwoods chapter are working hard to raise awareness of the severity of the problem, while offering both financial and emotional help to those struggling with thoughts of suicide, depression or other mental health issues. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and military sexual trauma (MTS) are the leading reasons for veteran and military related suicide, according to Operation: 23 to 0. “We help with bills that are becoming past due,” Borchers said of their assistance. “We can help with family therapy, counselors. And simple things, (such as) building wheelchair ramps if that is a necessity for a veteran. “(We’re) trying to take some of the load off them. We like to think it as a backpack almost where if you take too many personal issues and whatnot and put them it in a backpack, it’s eventually going to bring you down. “So we can help relieve some of that stress and weight off these individuals,” he continued. “We find it’s really giving them much more of a fighting chance and letting them know they are not alone in their struggles.”

Operation: 23 to 0 wants those struggling to know there’s a network of fellow military members to connect with for help and support along the journey of life. (For more information about Operation: 23 to 0 Northwoods chapter, contact Stoltman at 715-892-6808 or e-mail northwoods23to0@yahoo.com.)

Emergency contacts Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1) Or Text 838255 Text 741-741 for the Hope Line Vilas County Veteran Service Office: 715-479-3629 330 Court St., Eagle River, WI 54521 Oneida County Veteran Service Office: 715-369-6127 P.O. Box 400, 1 S. Oneida Ave, Rhinelander, WI 54501 Iron Mountain VAMC: 1-800-215-8262 Rhinelander VA Clinic: 1-715-362-4080 Vet Center: 1-800-215-8262 ext. 31750

Up North Updates
* indicates required