A Carry The Fallen 8.5 mile team hiking event was held Saturday at 8 a.m. at the Lions Club Park. Six members of the community marched for approximately three hours in below freezing cold to help end veteran suicide.
The event was a fundraiser for Active Heroes, an organization dedicated to helping active duty service members and veterans with post traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts, said Breeanna Eddings, the Killeen area team leader.
“What Active Heroes does, is it promotes suicide awareness and also promotes PTSD awareness in showing the community that you’re not alone. People do care,” said Eddings, an active duty Army sergeant with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “(Suicide is not something you have to do or need to do.”
Some participants in the free event carried weights in their ruck sacks to symbolize the emotional weight that many veterans carry after war, Eddings said.
“With the rucks, we’re showing that there’s camaraderie. There’s people you can turn to. You have purpose,” Eddings said.
She added that everyone involved worked together as a team regardless of individual pace.
“We’re as fast as our slowest person. You never leave someone behind,” Eddings said. “During events like this, the ones who do come out (to participate) spread the word that there’s this great organization who can help you.”
Active Heroes, which has peer mentors throughout the country, is working towards reducing veteran suicides through free programs to help heal post traumatic stress disorder.
The organization has a community center in Kentucky, and plans to expand nationwide.
For Heather Gulich, a veteran living in Killeen, the event was the least she could do for the friend she lost to suicide two years ago.
“I’m out here for Travis Burnside. He is my friend, and he was my soldier,” she said. “It is still devastating two years later that he chose to do what he did, and I would not be anywhere else.”
Gulich pulled photos of Travis from her pocket to share with her fellow walkers, reflecting on memories of her friend.
“He’s the only other person who would go ice skating with me,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.
“Part of my nursing rotation was at a Veterans Affairs hospital that had a program specifically for PTSD treatment,” said Trina Smalley, a neonatal intensive care nurse on Fort Hood. “And that kind of spiked my interest. And then recently a friend of mine was just medically discharged, and he’s battling PTSD.”
When asked what emotions she was feeling as she marched, she said it was hard to describe how she was feeling.
“It’s just hope that the stigma will be removed from (veteran suicide). And that we can do something for people that don’t know what to do,” Smalley said.