Challenge 22 5K to shed light on veteran suicide

The 5K walk, scheduled for this Saturday, Sept. 9, has been rescheduled for Nov. 18 because of the impending arrival of Hurricane Irma.

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Ashley Moir has seen it too many times — 32, to be exact. The MetroWest resident spent seven years in the U.S. military, forming a close bond with many of her fellow Marines.

Upon their return to civilian life, many had trouble with the transition, suffered from bouts of depression and, ultimately, chose to end their life.

Now the public relations chairperson for the Hugh T. Gregory American Legion Post 63, in Winter Garden, Moir is also co-chairing with 1st Vice Commander Kurt Gies on the organization's first Challenge 22 – 5K Silkies Ruck Walk. The benefactor is the nonprofit Project: VetRelief, and the purpose of the walk is to raise awareness of the fact that 22 veterans a day, on average, commit suicide.

“This is a tragedy at epidemic proportions, and we want to help make it stop,” Gies said. “Here I am, I’m a veteran, and I didn’t even know this statistic was out there.”

His goal is to see more than 500 walkers take part in the Nov. 18 event and to raise $20,000.

Gies served for 25 years with the U.S. Navy, and following his retirement, he looked for ways to continue serving his country. This led him to join the American Legion.

“PTSD is a greater killer of veterans than those killed in combat since 9-11,” he said. “We have found that the VA system does a good job fixing the broken bones, but they can’t touch the soul. That’s where this program comes into play.”

Moir presented the idea of the walk to the Winter Garden legion, and she will lead the veterans on the hike. She will be wearing her ruck sack, which is decorated with 54 dog tags of associates and friends who have committed suicide. Of those, 32 were people she personally knew from her time in the military or through other veteran organizations.

“PTSD is one of the most prevalent reasons (they commit suicide),” Moir said. “The guys get out, and they lose their purpose and don’t know what to do. Your family doesn’t really relate to you anymore. You can’t go to them with things anymore.

“The biggest part of it is bringing veterans together so they have a support line … so if there’s ever a time they need to talk to someone,” she said.



This nonprofit organization is an initiative supported by the American Legion, Department of Florida, and focuses on ensuring that service men and women have the support they need when transitioning back to civilian life. All services are provided free to veterans.

There are three main areas of service: emergency assistance, benefits support and community engagement. By creating a community of veterans helping veterans, Project: VetRelief aims to eliminate isolation upon their return home.

Statistics reveal an average of 22 veterans a day commit suicide; that's 8,030 each year. According to Project: VetRelief, major depression among military men and women is five times higher than civilians, and service members during a third or fourth tour are more than twice as likely as those on their first tour to meet screening criteria for acute stress, depression or anxiety.

The local office is at 1012A Lee Road, Orlando. A free 24-hour confidential support line is available at (800) 273-8255, press 1; or text 838255.


Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected].


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