Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday offered her support for Operation Iron Ruck (OIR), an effort by student veterans from the University of Alabama and Auburn University to raise awareness about veteran suicide. On Wednesday, November 23, veterans from both schools will set off on a wild march from Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, and on Iron Bowl Saturday, November 26, they will complete the route at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa to lock.
Governor Ivey signed one proclamation to declare November 23, 2022 in the state of Alabama as Operation Iron Ruck Day.
“The sacrifice of our military never ends in combat. Even as our military members return home, many are struggling with the effects of war in exchange for our protected freedoms.” said Governor Ivey. “To see our state’s student veterans put aside their college rivalries, unite and participate in this challenging journey to create greater awareness of veteran suicide is admirable and shows our loyalty to the veterans community in Alabama is noticeably strong. I am proud to offer my support to Operation Iron Ruck. We must always keep fighting for those who fight for us, and Alabama will always stand by our veterans.”
The group of student veterans will participate in the four-day, 151-mile return trek from Auburn to Tuscaloosa while carrying 22-pound backpacks. These backpacks contain donated items that students will deliver to Bill Nichols State Veterans Home, Mission 22, Tuskegee Veteran’s Assisted Living Centers, and Three Hots and a Cot. The items include hygiene products and a range of groceries.
“Many veterans, including myself, personally know another veteran or soldier who committed suicide.” said Clayton Buchanan of the Auburn Student Veterans Association. “On average, 17 veterans commit suicide every day. Through Operation Iron Ruck and the collaboration of student veterans from Auburn and Alabama, it truly shows that the veteran community is strong and committed to caring for our brothers and sisters until seventeen turns null.”
“The lives of almost every veteran and military member have been touched in some way by suicide,” said Tiffany Laurie of the Alabama Crimson Legion. “This year is almost home as our community recently lost a veteran, so we’re celebrating this year in honor of that veteran and his family.”
Operation Iron Ruck recently became a partner of Alabama’s Challenge for Preventing Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. The Suicide Prevention Campaign consists of the Office of the Governor, the Alabama Legislature, several state agencies including the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama National Guard and numerous non-profit organizations.
“It speaks volumes that the Alabama and Auburn fraternities put aside their rivalry during Iron Bowl week to work together to raise awareness about veteran suicide.” said Kent Davis, who serves as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and co-chair of Alabama’s Challenge. “This march creates a bond and a level of support that is having a lasting impact within the veterans’ community. I am proud of both universities and all participants for the work they are doing to raise awareness about veteran suicide.”
Alabama is home to approximately 400,000 veterans. Although veterans make up about 10 percent of the state’s population, Alabama veterans also account for a disproportionate 18 percent of suicides. In 2021, there were 142 veteran suicides in Alabama. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or are having thoughts of suicide, you are encouraged to call the Veterans Crisis Line at 9-8-8 to speak to trained counselors and access resources that are readily available.