The cool air was alive with activity Saturday at the Greenfield Eagles Aerie. Members of Active Heroes and Support Our Troops of Highland County were up bright and early moving the 660 flags that have been on display at the Eagles. Their mission was clear – to move the flags that represent the number of veterans who take their lives each month from the grounds of the Eagles to Traveler’s Rest on McArthur Way in the village.
Shawn Carter, team leader for Active Heroes, Team ABA, Southern Ohio, along with Steve Witham, both from Hillsboro, and Steph Roland of Support Our Troops of Highland County, were on hand and in charge of moving the flags. This was the perfect opportunity for an Active Heroes event called Carry The Fallen. It is a ruck-sack hike event in which participants carry at least 23 pounds of weight to symbolize the number of veterans’ lives lost to suicide every day and the emotional weight that many veterans might carry after war. These Carry The Fallen team hiking events build camaraderie, wellness and morale and connect military families with supporters and peer mentors, according to event organizers.
The flags were carefully removed by team members and placed in their packs. The ruck-hike began at the Eagles and progressed toward Traveler’s Rest, detouring through the Greenfield Cemetery to pay respects to the many veterans buried there. Along the route, many vehicles stopped as the team marched passed. In front of the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, members stood at attention in full salute in honor of the fallen service members. A fire truck and ambulance then followed the group as they progressed on their route.
Once in the center of town, a moment of silence was held at the veterans memorial. The Greenfield Police Department then escorted the team down East Jefferson Street to their destination as traffic and people stopped to honor the march. On the march back to the Eagles, the team stopped at Small Town Fitness where Ian and Angie Trefz spoke and told the story of their son and veteran, Pvt. Dillon Trefz.
ActiveHeroes.org reports that 22 veterans a day take their own life. The Active Heroes are dedicated to reducing veteran suicides and making a difference in the lives of veterans across the nation. On its website, resources and events can be found geared toward assisting veterans with the challenges they face in every day life. National resources offered include: a veteran’s crisis helpline, trained peer mentors all over the nation, business services and discounts, free events, and scholarships.
Local peer support members include Carter, Witham, Roland and Heather McGinnis. The organization also has a retreat center in Kentucky. It is the first retreat in America designed by military families to help military families heal. The retreat center is located in Shepherdsville, Ky. and is open to military families free of charge. Visitors can schedule a day to visit the grounds during hours of staffing, schedule a cabin vacation or sign up for selected camping dates with cookouts.
Additionally, the Ohio Legislature introduced HB 202 in May of 2017 to designate a day to bring awareness to veteran suicides. The measure passed the Ohio House last December and is in the Ohio Senate at this time for confirmation. This would designate the first Saturday in May of every year as “Veterans Suicide Awareness Day” to recognize and bring to attention the high number of veterans who take steps to end their own life following military service each year.
State Representative Andy Thompson (R-Marietta), co-sponsor of the bill, stated, “There is an urgent need for awareness, and to reach a consensus on how to address the issue. House Bill 202 is a first important step on that path.”
According to Roland, president of Highland County Support Our Troops of Highland County, the organization is a 501c(3) and is dedicated to the active duty members and veterans of Highland County. Beginning last year, the group adopted the cause of Howard Berry of Cincinnati, whose son was a staff sergeant in the army and committed suicide in 2013. Flags for Forgotten Soldiers was started by Berry in response to his son and veteran suicides nationwide.
The event in Highland County sees the flag display set up at different locations throughout the county. More information is available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FlagsForForgottenSoldiers/.
“We would like to thank Active Heroes, the village of Greenfield, the Greenfield Police Department, the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, the Greenfield Eagles, and Todd and Christy McCoppin for providing great food for the event, the veterans who participated in the march, and all those involved to make this event significant. We cannot forget about the veterans who give currently and all who gave so much for all of us,” Roland said.
Support Our Troops of Highland County sends care packages, birthday cards and other correspondence to active duty military members from the country. Roland encourages anyone who has an active duty service member to forward their address to her office to be added to the list. The organization can be reached at 937-763-8164 or by email at [email protected] You can find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Support-Our-Troops-Of-Highland-County-126202454107304/.
Mark Branham is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.