By Carol McIntire and
Leigh Ann Rutledge
Despite rain and chilly temperatures,396 people arrived at the Carroll County Vet’s Club on Brenner Rd. Saturday morning to participate in the second SAVE22 Hike.
The hike is held to bring awareness to veteran suicide.
“Even though numbers were down for the hike, we had a good event,” Tom Indorf of SAVE 22 said. “We sold around 400 tickets for the Mushroomhead concert which was moved under the grandstand (due to weather) and was very nice.”
Indorf said SAVE22 is busy planning more events to bring awareness to veteran suicide. A poker run is planned for June 3 and begins at Atwood Lake Park. Indorf is also working with a group to put on a hike in South Carolina.
While a lot of area residents took part in the event, many from other counties and even other states walked the seven-mile hike.
Setting the rhythm for walkers was the professional facilitated group, Warrior Beat of Canton. According to Trevor Myer, a Navy veteran and CEO and co-founder of Warrior Beat, drumming helps veterans reconnect through self-expression.
“Drumming helps veterans find their creativity and the rhythm provides a sense of tranquility,” Myer said. “We have a wide variety of veterans participating from as young as Afghanistan to Vietnam veterans.”
A trio of veterans traveled 9 1/2 hours from northern Illinois to participate in the hike. The trio hiked last year and came back to support their fellow veterans. The men, David Long, who served from 2000-2002, Dan Fessler, 1998-2006, and Jody “Rooster” Payne, 1989-1999, are part of Tyr’s Overwatch, a group that helps veterans. They are the “boots on the ground” noted Long.
Brooke Blevins, of Mentor, was hiking with her husband, Ronald, a veteran who served from 1996-2000. She decided to walk for SAVE22 because, she said, “22 is 22 too many. I am walking in honor of all veterans, including my dad who is a veteran.”
First time participants Dennis and Rebecca Ziegler of Freeport were hiking Saturday. Dennis is a Marine veteran who served from 1993-1999. The couple and other walkers had badges with photos of heroes who have been lost. Rebecca was walking for a young man.
“His mom was not able to be here. They took a picture of me and sent it to her so she knows someone is carrying him,” Rebecca said.
When asked if they were ready to tackle the seven-mile hike, Dennis stated, “I was in the military.” Rebecca added, “I like to walk.”
Kenneth Taylor, an Army veteran who served from 2008-2012, was participating in memory of a good friend who had served in the Navy in Afghanistan. He commented the hike is “a big thing.”
Byron Rogers, a marine and motivational speaker who wrote the book “After the Military,” sent the hikers off with words of inspiration.
Rogers said his goal is to help people find their purpose in life.
“I want to inspire people to live without fear and in freedom,” he said speaking from the steps in front of the Vets Club on Brenner Rd.
“When we leave the military, we believe life is going to be good. I can grow a beard because I want to and I can cut my cammies (camo pants) into shorts. For many that isn’t the case,” he related.
“While in the military, we had a purpose. When we return to the first civilian division (civilian life) many of us no longer know what our purpose is. I want to encourage people to find their new fight. Encourage them to find out what that one thing is in life they want to manifest and help make a difference. That is how you bring life back to life.”
Rogers recalled his own story after leaving the military of sitting beside his buddy, Eric, and wondering, “Is this all there is? If it is, it isn’t worth it.”
At that point, he said he realized he was in the fight of his life for the rest of his life.
Fast forward seven years and a degree in psychology later. Rogers was standing before the SAVE22 hikers Saturday encouraging them to find their purpose.
“Athopy of identity is the first thing that happens to us,” he said. “You have to realize you chose to create the person back there (in the military) and only you have the power to create a new chapter. No one but you can save you.”
“We are all in this battle together,” he said. “We were in it before the military, while we were in the military and in it now. We all need a purpose.”
He asked those in attendance to ask themselves as they hiked to remember those who were not there for the hike: those who fell in combat and in the “first civilian division.”
“Ask yourself, would they be proud of the way I am living my life in remembrance? I have to live for all those guys, to who others look up to and with respect. Respect is an honor and a privilege. We need to live our lives in a way to honor and respect those before us.”
Guest speaker Fred Elbert of Canton South talked with The FPS at the Vet’s Club while the hike was underway. He spoke at the first event in 2016, and told The FPS he planned to talk about POWs and veteran suicide.
Elbert, who was unable to walk due to health issues, is a Marine who served in Vietnam from 1968-1973 in the Reconnaissance unit. He was captured in 1968 and was a Prisoner of War (POW) until 1973. During the four years and seven months he was a POW, he escaped three times. He was honorably discharged in 1973.
Elbert feels he became more determined due to his capture. When he first returned home, he wanted out and away from the military but as time went on, he vowed himself with the military again.
Born in Queens, NY, he didn’t go to many events, just wanting to be by himself. Eventually he joined the Leathernecks. They began to get him involved in activities and he began speaking to other veterans.
He moved from New York to Ohio in 1997, and in 2002, his wife passed away. Elbert admitted he became a recluse again, because, “When my wife died a part of me died too.”
The Leathernecks, he said got him out and he has spoke numerous events over the years in the Leetonia-Columbiana area.
“It makes me feel good to talk to other veterans,” Elbert stated. “It’s part of my therapy.”
Today he resides in Canton South with his wife, Denise, and his service dog, Murphy.
After the hike, walkers returned to the Vet’s Club for food and fellowship.