Local college students ruck for a cause
By Heather Graves
ASHWAUBENON – A group of area college students hit the pavement over the holiday week for a 140-mile ruck – from Green Bay to Milwaukee – pushing through rain, heat and blisters to raise awareness about veterans’ suicide.
“It’s a challenging seven days, but it’s definitely a good cause,” ruck team leader and St. Norbert College junior Samuel Skiff said. “I think it is huge to raise awareness for veterans’ mental health and suicide prevention. I don’t think many people understand how big of an issue it is, and how many veterans are affected by it. Hopefully, by us rucking out there and having people see us, will help make people aware of that.”
This is Skiff’s second year participating in the “For Them” 140-Mile Ruck.
“I actually did it last year,” Skiff said. “I am a part of the St. Norbert ROTC program. The team leader last year asked me to take over as team leader this year. All of the other guys are all ROTC, so that is how I knew of them. So I, kind of, organized the team that way.”
He handpicked the remaining members – University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB) sophomore Alex Kaufman, St. Norbert sophomore Andrew Lopez and UWGB junior Nickolas Hanke.
This year, Skiff added a fifth team member, Lydia Myszka, to help with logistics.
Myszka served as media coordinator and support vehicle for the team.
“I was able to ruck around half of the total mileage, take pictures and share them to our social media pages and prepare the places the team was going to stay for the night,” she said.
With Skiff leading the way, the students embarked on the week-long journey – hauling 40-pound rucksacks and an American flag – from the Veterans Memorial, just outside the Resch Expo in Ashwaubenon, on Sunday, June 27, to Veterans Park in Milwaukee on Saturday, July 3.
The team walked an average of 20 miles for seven days – to represent the 20 veterans who commit suicide each day.
“It is a challenging issue and this event speaks to that struggle,” Myszka said. “The team continues to push through the discomfort and pain in order to empathize with the veterans who continuously fight their own mental battles. It has been such a rewarding experience to not only witness the guys push through physical and mental barriers, but also meet so many people that are impacted by this cause. The ruck is called ‘For Them’ because of the people who serve, and hearing those stories be shared makes it all worth it.”
The seven-day ruck traveled down the coast of Lake Michigan, with pit stops along the way – in Luxemburg, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Belgium and Northern Milwaukee – to rest and recharge.
Along with increasing awareness, the ruck raised around $7,000 for 4th Helping Out Our American Heroes (H.O.O.A.H.), a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans, services members overseas and their families.
“Because veterans, so often in the past, will come home and suppress everything and not talk about any of their issues, I don’t think many people understand just how challenging it is switching from such a different environment to a whole new environment – without any type of support,” Skiff said. “So I think that is what 4th H.O.O.A.H. is trying to do. Make that transition and dealing with what you’ve done and seen, bearable.”
Skiff said the reactions from passersby were heartwarming and helped keep them going.
“We got a lot of honking,” he said. “We got a lot of waves. And any time someone would pull over and ask us what we were marching for, and we told them, they were very supportive, which was very encouraging for us. You know, we are out there for many hours a day and having people stop and tell us how much what we are doing means to them is incredible.”
Skiff said every once in a while, they ran into a family member of a veteran who committed suicide.
“You tell them what you are out here doing, you just see the tears fill up in their eyes and see how much of an impact that has on them,” he said. “It is tough to see, but it also reminds you why you are walking.”
The team also documented their journey through social media – updating supporters as they went.
All team members are in the Fox Valley Battalion ROTC program and plan to join the military after graduation.
“My dad was in the Air Force,” Skiff said. “He did the ROTC program, so he was an officer in the Air Force. I have a brother who just got out of the Marines a little over a year ago. I had a number of uncles that were in the Navy and the National Guards, as well as my grandpa.”
Skiff said it was their influence that led him to the path he is on now.
“Those were huge role models in my life,” he said. “When my brother joined the Marines, I think that really got me thinking about the military, and I knew I wanted to go the officer route.”
Skiff, Kaufman and Myszka are also currently members of the National Guard.
“It is nice because I can do college, but also serve,” Skiff said. “Once we all graduate, we will all be in the Army in some capacity – whether that is in the National Guard for us three or active duty for the other two (Lopez and Hanke).”
More information on the ruck and 4th H.O.O.A.H. can be found online by CLICKING HERE.