On an average day, 22 United States veterans commit suicide, resulting in more lives lost than the combined military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Air Force veteran Kevin Steele, a resident of Eufaula, Oklahoma, learned of this sobering statistic when a young veteran he knew killed himself after returning home from deployment. The loss devastated Steele, so to raise money for veteran suicide prevention, he decided to hike the Appalachian Trail (a lifelong dream of his) with his son Hunter.
“The one particular kid that I think about, he practically grew up in my house,” Steele told Burt Mummolo of Tulsa’s Channel 8. “If we can do anything to spare any family out there that kind of pain, it’s worth walking 2,200 miles for.”
Kevin and Hunter have named their mission the Hike for Heroes and set a goal to raise $100,000 on their walk, which will take them through 14 states — from Georgia to Maine. They believe that they can meet their target if they find about 5,000 people willing to donate a penny per mile walked — or $22 in memory of those 22 veterans lost every day to suicide. With the funds, the Steeles want to work with the Kentucky-based charity ActiveHeroes to build a retreat center that will provide treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD and other issues.
The duo embarks on March 17. Presumably, every blister they endure will be a reminder that they’re walking to prevent the pain that suicide causes.