PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On Saturday, you might spot some people at Cobbs Creek Golf Course carrying heavy military-style rucksacks. They are marching to raise money to reduce the suicide rate among veterans. It was all started by a former Marine, Mike Waldron.
When Waldron came back from war, he didn’t realize that war was going to follow him home.READ MORE: Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia Ranked No. 1 Hospital For Pediatric Cancer, Other Specialties
“I thought I was dying. Every day I was having these panic attacks,” he said.
In 2003, Waldron was in the Marine Corps and was part of the initial invasion into Iraq. Danger lurked around every corner.
“So when we’re serving, we’re teaching our brain on a subconscious level not to trust anybody,” he said. “And that doesn’t change just because we take a flight back to the United States. We still don’t trust anybody. Then you’re back in civilian world. There’s no active training to be a civilian again.”
That is taking a toll. About 6,000 veterans die by suicide each year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says. That’s roughly 22 a day.
“That isolation is a super dangerous place for our minds,” Waldron said.
Three years ago, he started the nonprofit 23rd Veteran in Minnesota. The 14-week reconditioning program uses a combination of Outward Bound training, CrossFit and psychology to retrain the brain.
“Then we start going out on weekends and experiencing our triggers with this new, trusting team,” he said.
Now Waldron is planning to bring 23rd Veteran to more cities, including Philadelphia.
He met Ray Singson, head coach at CrossFit Main Line in Ardmore and, coincidentally, a fellow retired Marine.READ MORE: Several People Rescued, Cars Stranded Following Overnight Storms And Flash Flooding Across Region
“And then he told me about what 23rd Veteran really stands for, and I fell in love with the cause,” Singson said.
Singson put together a team to participate in the Nearly Naked Ruck March to raise funds for 23rd Veteran.
Fellow coach Mark Stewart will join him.
“About 50 pounds of food in our backpacks, and do ten miles, essentially a hike,” Stewart said.
The “Nearly Naked” name is a lighthearted way to invite people to wear what they want. Singson’s team named itself Boots, Beards and Silkies. Silkies are military-issue short-shorts.
“I’m wearing silkies and boots, and that’s it,” Singson said.
Singson’s team hopes to raise $6,000, enough to send one veteran through the program.
“It’s just an opportunity to be part of something that is bigger than yourself. I think that’s what makes the country great,” Singson said.
The organization estimates it needs to raise $72,000 to start the program in Philadelphia. The Nearly Naked Ruck March is being held at Cobbs Creek Golf Course on Saturday. Participants don’t have to sign up in advance. Saturday registration is at 8:30 a.m, and the march begins at 10 a.m.MORE NEWS: Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Meeting On New Race Curriculum Draws Full House
For more information on the Nearly Naked Ruck March, click here.