Brothers and Sisters:
In July of 2016 I was cycling the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath Trails between Pittsburgh and Washington DC. After a day and a half of cycling up hill from Pittsburgh to the Eastern Continental Divide, I started the decent to Cumberland, Maryland. Along the way I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line (which is a real line across the path) and shortly there after came across a hiker with a backpack and large American flag. It is not unusual to see bikes decorated in any variety of styles but a hiker really stood out. Since it was almost July Fourth I stopped to talk with him.
His name was Marty Wills and he couldn’t have been much taller than me but his legs were chiseled from walking with an extraordinary load. He was wearing shorts and worn boots but the other thing that stood out other than the flag was his shirt with the number 22 in large print on the front and back.
His mission was to walk from Muskegon, Michigan to Camp Lejune North Carolina to raise awareness of the 22 veterans who commit suicide everyday. The number was a bit staggering to me and a bit of math put that total number for a year at 8000 deaths. After a brief conversation, I shook his hand, he took a picture of me, I took a picture of him and each of us continued our journey.
As I laid in bed that night I could not help but feel very small. Here I was doing these rides for reasons which at that time were not totally clear to me and this man was giving part of his life to help his brothers and sisters in arms survive one more day. I also thought about the men and women I saw every week when I took care of the elevators at the VA in Brecksville. There were older veterans, mostly from the Vietnam era and occasionally a soldier with a ball cap commemorating service in Korea. The vast majority of the faces were not much older than my own children, mid- to late 20’s at best, and were there for drug, alcohol and mental health counseling.
These were the ones he was trying to save.
His story has stuck with me to this day.
Since the article about my fight with depression and the untimely death of one of our members, I have received positive feedback from those around the country who are dealing with the same issue. I want everyone to know that the only reason the stigma around mental health continues is because people are reluctant to discuss it and feel there are limited resources available.
By the time you receive this issue of the Constructor, the Local 17 website, iueclocal17.org, will have links to resources available to not only IUEC members and their families but to the community at large. I want everyone visiting to know that any link clicked on the site is done in total anonymity. There are no cookies or trackers on the site. Period. The only information seen on the web administrator dashboard is the number of clicks on external links.
Please feel free to pass those links on to friends, family or anyone who needs a hand. Also, if you know of an organization that can help those in crisis, pass it on at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next month,
Work smart, work safe and slow down for safety.