Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday offered her support for Operation Iron Ruck (OIR), an effort by student veterans at the University of Alabama and Auburn University to raise awareness about veteran suicide. On Wednesday, Nov. 23, student veterans from both schools will ruck march from Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn and make the route to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa in the Iron Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 26.
Governor Ivey signed a proclamation declares November 23, 2022 Operation Iron Ruck Day in the state of Alabama.
“The sacrifice of our soldiers and soldiers never ends in combat. Even when our military members return home, many struggle with the effects of war in exchange for our protected freedoms.” Governor Ivey said. “Watching our state’s student veterans put aside their college rivalries, unite and participate in this challenging journey to bring greater awareness to veteran suicide is admirable and shows that our loyalty to the veteran community is clearly strong at Alabama. I am proud to offer my support to Operation Iron Ruck. We must always continue to fight for those who fight for us, and Alabama will always stand with our veterans.”
A group of student veterans will participate in a four-day, 151-mile march from Auburn to Tuscaloosa, carrying 22-pound backpacks. These backpacks contain donated items that the students will deliver to the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home, Mission 22, Tuskegee Veteran’s Assisted Living Centers and Three Hots and a Cot. Items include hygiene items and an assortment of food items.
“Many veterans, myself included, personally know another veteran or service member who has succumbed to suicide,” said Clayton Buchanan of the Auburn Student Veterans Association. “On average, 17 veterans commit suicide per day. Through Operation Iron Ruck and the collaboration of student veterans from Auburn and Alabama, it truly shows that the veteran community is strong and committed to taking care of our brothers and sisters until seventeen becomes zero.”
“Nearly every veteran and service member’s life has been affected in some way by suicide,” said Tiffany Laurie of the Alabama Crimson Legion. “This year is close to home because our community recently lost a veteran, so this year we will be doing our best to honor that veteran and his family.”
Operation Iron Ruck recently partnered with Alabama’s Suicide Prevention Challenge among service members, veterans and their families. The Suicide Prevention Campaign consists of the Governor’s Office, the Alabama Legislature, several state departments, including the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs, the Alabama Department of Mental Health, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama National Guard, and a number of non-profit organizations.
“It’s telling that the Alabama and Auburn Student Veterans Associations put aside their rivalry during Iron Bowl week to work together to raise awareness about veteran suicide,” said Kent Davis, who serves as commissioner of the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs and co-chair of Alabama’s Challenge. “This march creates a connection and a level of support that has a lasting impact on the veteran community. I am proud of both universities and all participants for the work they are doing to help raise awareness about veteran suicide.”
Alabama is home to approximately 400,000 veterans. Although veterans represent about 10 percent of the state’s population, Alabama veterans also account for a disproportionate 18 percent of suicides. In 2021, there were 142 veteran suicides in Alabama. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or having suicidal thoughts, we encourage you to call the Veterans Affairs Crisis Line at 9-8-8 to speak with trained counselors and get immediately available resources. .