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

Operation Iron Ruck will see student veterans from both schools take part in the four-day, 151-mile ruck march from Auburn to Tuscaloosa while carrying 22-pound rucksacks. The march will begin at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn on Wednesday and end at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa for Iron Bowl Saturday.

Those rucksacks contain donated items that the 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 post-9/11 veterans in the U.S., with 125,000 veterans taking their own lives since 2001. Each year since 9/11 has had over 6,000 veteran deaths by suicide.

Alabama veterans are 10% of the state's population while representing a disproportionate number of suicides, comprising 18% of the state’s total suicide deaths.

In support of the march, Gov. Kay Ivey has signed a proclamation declaring November 23, 2022, as Operation Iron Ruck Day in the state of Alabama.

“The sacrifice of our military men and women never ends in combat. Even when our military members return home, many struggle with the impacts of the war in exchange for our protected freedoms,” Ivey said. “Watching our state’s student veterans set aside their collegiate rivalries, unite and take part in this challenging journey to bring greater awareness to veteran suicide is admirable and demonstrates that our loyalty to the veteran community is recognizably strong in Alabama. I’m proud to offer my support to Operation Iron Ruck. We must always continue to fight for those who fight for us, and Alabama will always stand with 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 is comprised of the Governor’s Office, the Alabama Legislature, several state departments, including the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, Alabama Department of Mental Health, Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama National Guard and other nonprofits.

“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,” said Kent Davis, who serves as the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and Co-Chair of Alabama’s Challenge. “This march establishes a connectedness and level of support that has a lasting impact within the veteran community. I’m proud of both universities and all participants for the work they are doing to help raise awareness for veteran suicide."

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email craig.monger@1819news.com.

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