By Kimberly Pistone
SIDNEY – Each day an average of 17 veterans die by suicide. In order to bring awareness to this tragic national epidemic, Jacob Blankenship will be doing a 50-plus mile ruck, leaving from the Hancock County Courthouse on May 18 and arriving at Tawawa Park in Sidney on May 19. A ruck is a military inspired workout where a weighted pack is worn while hiking.
Blankenship joined the US Marine Corps after graduating from Sidney High School. He recalls going to the military recruitment offices in Piqua after graduating, but everyone turned him down except the USMC. He weighed 320 pounds, and they told him to return after losing weight. Blankenship spent a year walking the trails at Tawawa Park, lost 100 pounds, and then enlisted.
Blankenship did two tours while in the USMC. “Since I got out, it seems like I get so many calls in the middle of the night from buddies I served with saying ‘I don’t want to be here’ and ‘I don’t have anyone.’ I have friends who have committed suicide.” Blankenship said.
Blankenship spoke of how separating from the military is hard, not only from the aspects of leaving a conflict or war zone, but because the veteran leaves his or her military family. The sense of belonging is something that cannot be replicated in civilian life. This, in addition to PTSD and other trauma, is one of the aspects of leaving the military that causes a lot of internal conflict for veterans.
When asked what he thinks about while training for this ruck, Blankenship spoke about his black bracelet. A black bracelet is worn in remembrance of someone who was lost. Blankenship’s bracelet is for his friend and fellow Marine, Cpl. Robert Nowicki, who died by suicide while stationed in Japan. His friend’s death took a great toll on Blankenship, and he still regrets the fact that he didn’t check on him the night before. So now, every time he looks at his black bracelet, he thinks “I need to suck it up. I am doing this for him and for the other guys I have served with. My mantra is this wristband.”
Blankenship and five friends, also former military, are planning on doing the ruck together. Blankenship will be wearing a pack weighing about 50 pounds, with all the gear that he needs to walk over 50 miles. Other than a few brief health checks, they will take no breaks. Blankenship will complete the ruck no matter the weather. He said, “Our demons don’t take a break.” Even if his fellow walkers cannot complete the ruck, he will.
The ruck will begin at the Hancock County Courthouse in Findlay with a step-off ceremony at 5 p.m. Choosing Findlay was symbolic of where Blankenship currently lives. The ruck ends at Tawawa Park, around 1 p.m., symbolic of where Blankenship began his journey.
Blankenship would really like to see community involvement, and encourages anyone who wants to show support for veterans and suicide awareness to join him and walk for a mile or two.
The Headstrong Project is a non-profit mental health organization that provides treatment to veterans, service members, and their families. According to their website, theheadstrongproject.org, they provide 30 cost-free sessions to veterans with trauma, providing care for any veteran regardless of when they served, where they served, and their manner of discharge.
Follow the event on Facebook at www.facebook.com/events/6500535809978162 for more information and updates.