POSTENKILL, N.Y. -- Rensselaer County's Heroes at Home is launching its inaugural "Patriot Ruckmarch" with a 26-mile march from Postenkill to Grafton, N.Y., and back on Saturday, Sept. 20, to raise awareness about the needs of veterans and their families.
Those who march can either walk or run packless, or carry a 35-pound rucksack along New York Routes 2 and 351 starting at 8 a.m., meals provided. Participants will meet at either the Veterans of Foreign Wars center or the Postenkill Firehouse beginning at 7 a.m. for the all-day event.
A $25 registration fee is required of those who march, but the primary goal of the march isn't to raise money. Heroes at Home and the Mental Health Project Inc. are putting on what they hope to be an annual event in order to get the attention of veterans in the rural areas of the county. The march route will change every year.
Heroes at Home organizer and Hoosick Falls American Legion Post 40 member John Holmes has registered 18 active duty military and young veterans to make the march so far. He said he is expecting up to three dozen participants. Support for the Ruckmarch has spread by word of mouth and through social media among the local military community.
"The theme of the march is that nobody walks alone," Holmes said. "We are trying to convince people that we are out here and want veterans to seek our help if they need it; and support each other.
The public is encouraged to go to the Postenkill or Grafton VFW centers and along the route to show support for those contributing to the march.
Road marches have recently become popular among those who contribute in triathlons, Iron Man and Tough Mudder events. The event is not closed to only veterans, but open to men and women of the public to do what Holmes said is like "walking in a soldier's shoes."
The goal of the "Ruckmarch" is publicity: "To show what it is like to be a soldier: 26 miles with a pack on your back is no joke guys love a challenge," Holmes said. "It's a tough thing to do. The more attention we get to do it, the more veterans will see it and become aware of our program."
Heroes at Home is a nonprofit outreach organization that works to help prevent veteran suicides. Heroes at Home also coordinates peer support and veterans' resources for veterans and their families, regardless of military discharge status. Peer support is provided by volunteer veterans who have had first-hand experience with crises.
Heroes at Home is one of 11 New York state-funded PFC Joseph Dwyer Peer to Peer programs to provide services to veterans in rural areas. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are roughly 52,000 veterans living in Rensselaer, Albany, Saratoga and Washington Counties, and Heroes at Home is available to any of them.
"We are hoping this reaches veterans who are reluctant to talk to people," Holmes said. "Maybe there are even some veterans who have left the military (dishonorably). We have open doors to anyone: Many of whom are still decent people regardless of what they have done."
Heroes at Home can be found on Facebook or online at http://www.heroesathomerensco.com/. The organization is based in three Rensselaer County drop-in centers in Troy, Rensselaer and Hoosick Falls.
Call Holmes at 518-545-6781 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to submit a donation as a business or nonprofit sponsor of the march. Also, contact Holmes to register in the march.
Contact Tom Momberg at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg