Merna Native Participates In “Ruck March” To Raise Awareness Of Veteran Suicide

Merna Native Participates In “Ruck March” To Raise Awareness Of Veteran Suicide

The University of Nebraska and University of Iowa veterans’ organizations are once again teaming up for the annual Things They Carry Ruck March. According to a 2018 article by the University of Nebraska Lincoln, the event began in 2016 and features hundreds of volunteers walking a ceremonial football from Kinnick Stadium in Iowa to Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium.

The walk, which began in Iowa this week, has been a student-led project since its inception. The project is named ‘ruck’ in honor of a training technique that sends soldiers on long hikes wearing heavy packs. Volunteers, who include students, veterans, family, and friends, walk in shifts, covering about 40 miles a day while wearing backpacks that weigh approximately 20 pounds or include 20 items symbolic of military service. That number symbolizes the federal figure that approximately 20 veterans take their lives daily.

Jeff Downey, a Merna native who served in the US Army and is now active National Guard, says this is an incredible opportunity to recognize a great cause and remember those lost to veteran suicide.

“Being prior service and having a couple of people close to me that have lost the battle to soldier suicide, it has been pretty meaningful to be a part of from the time when I was a student at UNL and even now being in the National Guard,” said Downey.

On Sunday, November 21 the football will be handed off from the Hawkeyes to the Huskers at Freedom Rock, a 12-foot-tall boulder located along Highway 25, near Menlo, Iowa. The approximate halfway point was established as Freedom Rock in 1999 by Ray Sorensen, an artist and veteran supporter, the boulder is painted with a design honoring veterans. Downey said the football will then be walked from Menlo to Lincoln where it will be handed to Athletic Director Trev Alberts prior to Friday’s kickoff.

“The first time I did this in 2019, every kid growing up in the ’90s wanted to be out [on the field] in Memorial Stadium. Being able to be a part of such a great cause, standing in front of 85,000 people when they recognize everybody in the first quarter is something truly special,” said Downey. “Bringing awareness to the fight that our men and women in uniform are fighting even after they come home and take the uniform off is something that is truly special.”

Downey encourages everyone to participate in the ruck even if you cannot walk the entire distance. Anyone who is interested in donating to the program can make donations payable to the UNL Student Veterans Organization. All donations will support Veterans and Veterans services in the Lincoln area.

Online Donations:

Ruck March Sign-Up:

Anyone with questions is urged to contact [email protected].