By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans die of suicide every day in the United States.
For 4th HOOAH (Helping Out Our American Heroes), a non-profit supporting the military, it’s too much for that number to get to zero.
“We as a nation spend millions of dollars each year training these people to become warriors,” said Tammy Hardwick, president of the Wisconsin chapter. “When they return, there is often a gap in communication, in programs, in services, compared to what they experienced when they were deployed. We know that the system has gaps. “
Hardwick said 4. HOOAH sees itself as the spackle.
“We’re trying to fill these gaps,” she says. “We want you to know we’re not A’s and that’s it… 4th HOOAH is here for the long haul. We build these relationships so they know they have a little place to land. “
For the ninth time, the 4th HOOAH is holding their annual 20-mile (or 2.0-mile) Veterans Suicide Reconnaissance Jolt on Saturday, November 13th.
Hundreds will lace up their boots, buckle up their backpacks, and march 20 miles to show their support for those suffering from PTSD or in memory of veterans who have died from suicide.
“We know this is a conversation that needs to be had,” Hardwick said. “We need to normalize mental health problems – that it’s okay not to be okay. So it’s really important to have these events and to bring together the community and support for these people. “
Hardwick said this is not a requirement, but participants can wear a backpack or rucksack weighing 20 pounds to commemorate the 20 veterans.
She said the event draws around 1,000 veterans, activists and civilians each year.
The organizers hope for a similar participation this year.
Both the 20-mile and 2.0-mile rucks start at the KI Convention Center.
Ruckers will ride the Fox River Trail, with the 2.0 mile rucker turning on Mason Street and the 20 mile rucker turning on Old Martin Road.
Hardwick said organizers had a goal of $ 100,000, which is the group’s annual budget.
She said 100% of the raised funds will go to programs designed to help local veterans with physical, mental, emotional, and financial needs.
William Kocken, 4th HOOAH vice president and founder of the Wisconsin chapter, said the jolt was a win-win.
“The Jerk is our biggest awareness and fundraising drive,” he said. “It funds most of our programs and also raises awareness of veteran suicide. It shows veterans that they are not alone. “
Boot tribute campaign
During the backpack and at other 4th HOOAH events during the year, military boots with pictures and stories of veterans who died by suicide will be displayed as part of the Boot Tribute campaign to give a face to the problem.
“The Boot campaign really encompasses the charity as a whole,” Hardwick said. “We want to give a face to these people who commit suicide. You hear the number, when we started it was 22, went back to 20 so it’s making that progress, but it’s hard when you hear that number to really equate that to a face. So, the boat tribute we’re doing is really driving this home. You see these people with the boots on. You see the letter from her family. You see their rank. You see her branch and she really personalizes it.
She said the campaign covers the reason for what 4th HOOAH is doing.
“We use these honors so courageously given by families, we use them in all of our events to really embrace them,” she said. “Yes, we have these fun outings, we have these gatherings, but that’s really why, and that’s why we’re here for them.”
Hardwick said the Boot Tribute is a year-round campaign, and local businesses and organizations can also host a boot to continue the awareness-raising effort.
“Last year more than 100 boots went to local companies,” she said. “This is really great because it really creates awareness of the event, of the charity, and of these people. We had (boots) everywhere, from pizza chains to car dealerships and everything in between. “
Hardwick said the community support has been phenomenal since the organization was founded in 2013.
“I think everyone should support the veterans and our local military,” she said. “Some of the other states don’t get community support, they don’t get that support,” she said. “But here in Wisconsin we are inundated and contacted regularly by all kinds of groups and companies who want to support and agree to our mission. They want a way to help, so we have consistent community support which is absolutely great. “
History of the Wisconsin Chapter
Founded in 2013, 4th HOOAH Wisconsin, a chapter of HOOAH Inc., supports active duty, returning veterans and their family members.
4th HOOAH believes that every veteran deserves and deserves support and never turns away a service member, whether active or retired.
Hardwick said the 2013 jolt was the catalyst for the Wisconsin chapter.
“Our founding members – Kocken and Nick Gries – knew HOOAH, our national Florida chapter, and they liked the mission,” she said. “There was no one in Wisconsin to conduct the interview at the time. They knew that the conversation had to be conducted. “
She said the 2013 jerk was thrown together and raised $ 10,000 in just 10 days.
With the goal of having a local chapter in all 50 states, the national organization suggested using the money to found the Wisconsin Chapter.
“It just grew exponentially from then on,” Hardwick said. “In the first six years of the jerk, the profit for each jerk almost doubled. The number of visitors had doubled. Of course, we did more of a virtual event with 2020, but it was still very successful in terms of money and presence and coverage across the United States. They knew that the conversation had to be conducted. “
Kocken said he and Gries started the Wisconsin Chapter out of necessity.
“We couldn’t find an organization that would support veterans as we saw fit,” said Kocken. “Since HOOAH is a 100 percent volunteer organization, we were able to re-use 100% of the funds to help veterans as we saw fit. This was for us to get veterans to do things again and go headlong to life. “
Hardwick said volunteering at 4th HOOAH has been her way of giving back since 2015.
“I have a strong military background in my family,” she said. “I am the only one of my seven other siblings who has not served directly or is married to someone who has served. So that was really my way of giving something back. “
Kocken said the ability to help veterans is everything.
“I see veterans who have struggled through these battles and are getting stronger because of it,” he said. “This organization offers a variety of programs to help veterans reconnect and engage in activities they would not have tried due to cost or other obstacles.”
You can find more information about the 4th HOOAH, the Ruck or its other events online at hooahwi.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for people in crisis or for those who want to help others. To speak to a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.