GILBERT, Ariz. - A group of veterans is heading out on a cross-country ruck march to raise awareness and funds for wounded veterans and veteran suicide prevention.
The Mother of all Rucks Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that started right here in Arizona. The founder Paul ‘The Anvil’ O’Keefe says he and three other military veterans will start a 2,600-mile ruck next month from San Diego to Washington D.C., where they'll end at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
A ruck march, or loaded march, is a long-distance march carrying a load. It's a common military exercise.
Along their journey they hope their efforts will help lower the number of veteran suicides, homelessness and bring awareness to PTSD.
“There is no way that we can accept any number. If you’ve gone into a combat zone or been deployed or you’ve put the uniform on there is no way we should let you slip through the cracks and feel like you have to take your own life,” O’Keefe said.
The number of veteran suicides is estimated at 22 per day, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
“What I hope is we can knock it down to zero. There is no way we can accept any number. Any drop in that number is epic. And that’s what we are shooting for,” O’Keefe said.
One of the veterans on the team has faced death just recently. Victor Vincelette was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Sporadic Burkitt's Lymphoma. In just six months, Vincelette endured more than a 100 bags of chemo therapy. The cancer refracted and came back. He was offered an experimental drug treatment with the National Institute of Health. It eradicated his cancer in just four months.
Vincelette got a clean bill of health in July of last year. He’ll be considered cured if the cancer remains free for five more months.
“It’s a miracle I’m alive,” Vincelette said who is one of just six people in the world to be successfully treated.
He’s now hoping his spirit to live will be shared on his journey.
“Well, it gives me an intimate relationship with death,” Vincelette said.
To see his fellow service men and women suffer from the struggles of war simply hurts too much to see, he said. He quit his job, packed his bags and joined his friend on their longest ruck ever.
Both Vincelette and O’Keefe know that veterans helping veterans will be the way to break free of the pains of war and service.
“I’ve taken on something that I think every Veteran has a responsibility to do at some point. You know I’ve had some rough days. I’ve had some really good days out of the service. And I don’t want people getting out of there service to go through years of struggle like I did,” O’Keefe said.
The Mother of all Rucks Foundation will head east to the nation’s capital at a pace of 22 miles per day. Their focus will be on meeting individual Veterans along the way and some larger remodeling efforts as they partner with other non-profits and businesses. Arizona based Rise Above Remodeling is one of them.
Colin Yost from Rise Above Remodeling is glad to partner with Mother of all Rucks. Together, they can make simple changes that make a big difference such as remodeling a bathroom for a veteran with disabilities.
“These are your four walls. This is where your family is, and this is where you are protected. And this is where you are safe. So the idea of having a place a vet can’t use to its fullest potential just kind of makes me feel bad," Yost said. "I want to make sure they have that full experience like every other Americans."
These guys hope others join their mission, lend a hand or donate to the cause. For more information visit Mother of all Rucks Foundation's website.