Operation Iron Ruck uses Iron Bowl week to raise awareness of veteran suicides

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 12:37 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Auburn Tigers and the Crimson Tide are getting prepared for the 2021 Iron Bowl, a war fought for a year of football bragging rights. But there’s another battle being fought by a group of student veterans from both colleges.

Members of the University of Alabama’s Campus Veterans Association are getting ready to march alongside their counterparts from Auburn’s Student Veterans Association in what’s become the fourth annual Operation Iron Ruck. It’s a cross-state trek to raise awareness of veteran suicides.

Led by Slade Salmon of The University of Alabama and Auburn University’s Clayton Buchanan, the 2021 teams will set off from Tuscaloosa on Nov. 24 and make the 150 mile trip to Auburn, arriving before the Iron Bowl kicks off on Nov. 27.

The three-day trip will see each student veteran hike about 50 miles and walk for 2 ½ hours before climbing into a support vehicle for about five hours of rest before their next hike. They’ll each carry 17 pound rucksacks of donated materials to remember the 17 veterans whom the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says die by suicide each day.

“The heavy stress of the hike is symbolic of the challenges that veterans with thoughts of suicide face every day,” said Salmon. “The camaraderie that is built between the veterans of both universities during this event has led to lifelong friendships and a greater network of veterans helping veterans.”

Salmon and Buchanan were welcomed Tuesday by the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, which donated items for the march. ADVA Commissioner Kent Davis also presented the two leaders with a proclamation.

Slade Salmon of The University of Alabama and Auburn University’s Clayton Buchanan are...
Slade Salmon of The University of Alabama and Auburn University’s Clayton Buchanan are presented with a proclamation for Operation Iron Ruck Day 2021 by Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Kent Davis.(Source: Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs)

The items carried by the teams, and any money that’s donated, will go to support for Mission 22, Three Hots and a Cot, and the Tuskegee Veterans Community Living Center.

“It speaks volumes that the Alabama and Auburn student veterans’ associations set aside their rivalry during the week of the Iron Bowl to work together in raising awareness about veteran suicide,” Davis said. “This march establishes a connectedness and level of support that has a lasting impact within the veteran community.”

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