For Sgt. First Class John Garrett, every step of his run is about more than meeting the next mile.
“It gives me a chance to spend a few quick seconds with somebody and thank them for their support and maybe mention some of the issues facing veteran,” Garrett said.
He joined the Army National Guard when he was 17. In the last 22 years, he’s served as a combat medic, in the infantry and deployed to Iraq in 2006.
One of his bosses was a big runner.
“If you work for him, you had to run. I hate running but he got me running.
They started running races together, but when Garrett got hurt three years ago, that running turned into a mission.
“To pick up the slack, I started carrying the rucksack and people were like, ‘Why are you carrying that?’ and I decided I wanted to do something to promote veterans causes and bring awareness to the suicide epidemic that the veteran population is experiencing right now. So, I started wearing it in races and sometimes carrying a flag too,” Garrett said.
Earlier this year, he did the Fort4Fitness 10K in full gear.
“Fort Wayne has such a tremendous support for veterans and military and I’ll be running and people will just reach out and want to touch hands and high five and people say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ It’s great,” Garrett said.
Suited up in the 50-pound rucksack, it’s a service people can see so Garrett can share the message of struggles many don’t see.
“Twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. That statistic for veteran suicide is so alarming and we have to do something to reach out to these people who have been through our country’s wars and have been through the battles and help them connect to the home-front. If this message reaches one person that they can reach out to somebody who’s facing that isolation and depression that’s what I want,” he said.
With each race, Garrett spreads hope.
“There are so many resources out there that veterans might not be aware of, but we have to get that message out that we’re there for them,” he said.
A veteran struggling with mental illness or considering suicide can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 for help.