COPPERAS COVE — In a show of solidarity with a local noncommissioned officer, the Copperas Cove High School’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Bulldog Battalion participated in an approximately 3-mile ruck march. A CCHS teacher asked retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Enrique Herrera, the senior instructor of the JROTC, if the battalion would like to march with her and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Chris Chaparro.

Chaparro explained that May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

“That kind of hits close to the heart for me,” he said. “I’ve lost around six of my buddies due to (suicide) since 9/11.”

Chaparro is doing a 50-mile challenge for the month of May organized by the United Services Automobile Association — or USAA.

Suicide among soldiers and veterans is an alarming trend that has increased. Veteran Administration statistics show that an average of 22 veterans take their life every day.

In September 2021, the United Service Organization — or USO — reported that a total of 30,177 active-duty members and veterans who had served since 9/11 had died by suicide, a drastically higher number than 7,057 in the 20 years prior to 9/11.

One of the cadets participating in the march, Ryan Bithorn, said preventing soldier suicide is a very important topic and something near and dear to his heart.

“My dad’s been in the Army for 18 years, so I’ve definitely heard and seen the side of suicide PTSD affecting soldiers in the Army,” he said. “And I think it’s very important to raise awareness.

Bithorn, who will be a cadet in the ROTC program at the University of North Georgia, said he was pleased to see some of his peers join him on the march.

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