AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF)- A man from Palo Alto, California is walking more than 700 miles to raise awareness for veteran and first responder suicide. He and his team walk 22 miles a day and they started their walk Thursday morning right here in the Garden City.
An average of 22 U.S. veterans commit suicide every day, and first responders are more likely to commit suicide than die in the line of duty.
Marine veteran and first responder John Preston started his “22 and You” hike hoping to stop it.
“In 2016, my older brother, who was a Marine veteran and also a police officer for 20 years, succumbed to his post traumatic stress and took his own life,” he explained. “That number is absolutely staggering and makes no sense. This is America’s heroes. These are the people here for us, to keep us safe. To keep us up. We shouldn’t be losing so many after they’ve given their service.”
Preston and his team started their hike in Parris Island, South Carolina on November 11th.
They carry a combined 50 pounds, or 22 kilos, on their backs while they walk. As others join them they may share some of that weight which, Preston told NewsChannel 6, is symbolic of a greater message.
“That’s the idea, that we need to ask for help. It’s ok to ask for help. And there is a community of people around you that will be there to help you.”
Preston said that he is taking on this 704 mile trek in hopes that he may prevent what happened to his family from happening to someone else’s.
“There are people’s lives that are affected that you don’t even know are affected inside of suicide. If we can stop one person from taking their life, then we have accomplished something incredible,” said Preston.
Thursday morning, Preston started his daily walk at Augusta Fire Station 2 on Telfair Street. He was joined by the Patriot Guard Riders and some local first responders.
Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Thomas Stoker was there and explained that the job can really weigh on their mental health.
“The things that we see on a daily basis, oftentimes I don’t think that we have the proper outlet to deal with those things that we see on a daily basis,” said Stokes.
Stokes told NewsChannel 6 that the department has taken steps to help its first responders cope.
“We just did suicide prevention training for the entire department two or three months ago. And later this month, November 29th, we’re going to have suicide prevention training for our administrative staff as well,” he said.
As someone who lost a loved one to suicide, Preston has a message for anyone considering it.
“Don’t do it. You know, there’s no other question. Don’t do it. Seek help, whatever that help is.”
Preston and his team will end their 22 mile walk Thursday at McDonald’s on Deans Bridge Road. They will end their 704 mile hike in Cincinnati, Ohio.
You can follow Preston’s journey or make a donation towards his cause HERE.
Photojournalist: Will Baker.