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Shepherd’s Men to Run 911 Miles to Save Veterans’ Lives

April 8, 2015

Shepherd's Men Large GroupFrom April 19 – April 26, a team of 13 marines, veterans and civilians who support soldiers returning from battle with invisible injuries, will run from the Freedom Tower in New York City to Shepherd Center in Atlanta—a journey of 911 miles.

The group, known as Shepherd’s Men, will raise money and awareness for the growing number of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the most common injuries affecting returning troops since 2001. One hundred percent of the funds raised goes directly to the Shepherd Center SHARE military initiative, the only private program of its kind in the country.

Of the more than 294,000 returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers, one in five need treatment for these devastating conditions. Though undetectable visually, TBI and PTSD devastate service members and the families who suffer with them, often leading to broken homes and suicide. Statistics show that 22 veterans a day commit suicide in the U.S.

The SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center was founded to save the lives of service members with neurotrama through innovative research and treatment. Often these neurotrauma injuries go undetected. With a soldier’s stoicism and commitment to putting the mission and team first without complaint, many returning men and women are reluctant to admit that something is wrong and that they need help.

Shepherd’s Men was started by Travis Ellis, Vice President of Mobilized Fuels, and Gunnery Sergeant Troy Campbell to help fund the SHARE initiative.

“We have a responsibility to engage in the fight; this is how I have chosen to do it,” Ellis said. “The important thing to realize is that we have been at war for 14 years and we have asked 1% of our population to fight that war. During WW II, the entire country came together as a nation to support the troops: loved ones enlisted, we rationed, we bought bonds. Now we are all insulated, so far removed from what is going on in a different land. Sending sons and daughters to fight and die, we owe it to them to see that they are cared for when they return. Their lives are worth it. And going untreated, PTSD can have an affect on families for generations.”

Shepherd's take a break from training to pose for a picture on Kennesaw Mountain.

Shepherd’s Men take a break from training to pose for a picture on Kennesaw Mountain.

At its inception last year, the race went from D.C. to Atlanta and raised $130,000, which helped five soldiers go through the program. The program costs $40,000 per veteran with only one-third being covered by insurance. Though the program works with 40 clients each year, there is a diagnosed population of of 294,000 who need its help. Each patient is admitted by severity of injuries; no one is denied care based on cost. Donations are much needed in order to increase the organization’s ability to care for more service members.

This year, race organizers say, the goal is $250,000 and they are on track. Along the route, the team receives support from VFW, American Legion and Rotary groups, police and fire departments, businesses and citizens who are aware of their cause and who come out to cheer them on, provide meals and hotel rooms. The Shepherd’s Men refuse to spend any of the donations on themselves and gladly sleep in local firehouses or other community facilities to give as much as possible back to the SHARE initiative.

The Shepherd’s Men route begins each day in the following cities:

  • Day 1, April 19: Begin at Ground Zero, Freedom Tower, NY, NY
  • Day 2, April 20: Princeton, NJ
  • Day 3, April 21: Philadelphia, PA
  • Day 4, April 22: Baltimore, MD to Washington DC
  • Day 5, April 23: Quantico, VA
  • Day 6, April 24: Lynchburg, VA
  • Day 7, April 25: Gastonia, NC to Athens, GA
  • Day 8, April 26: Shepherd Center, Atlanta, GA

Active duty Purple Heart recipient Marine First Sergeant Justin Ezell, who ran the event last year and will run again this year, feels strongly about the SHARE Military Initiative. He experienced the program through one of his own former Marines, who suffered a gunshot wound to the head. He was suicidal and couldn’t get his life back on track. Thanks to SHARE, the former Marine is now healthy and whole, with a girlfriend and a life he loves.

“SHARE provides a path to wellness for people who are suffering and don’t know where to turn. Whether you have physical scars or the problems are emotional or mental, no one really knows that help exists. We want to make people aware of the program so that they can get help they need to get on with a good life,” Ezell said.

A soldier’s experience

When Jarrad Turner returned from Iraq, having deployed with the Army as a combat medic in 2003 and 2006, he had injuries to his head, shoulders and neck from an RPG attack. He couldn’t remember anything, from where he’d put his car keys to what day it was. He couldn’t sleep and was suffering from chronic vertigo.

“I would look at this guy in the mirror with no visible injuries and be mad at myself. ‘Suck it up’; that’s what we’re taught in the Army. ‘If you’re weak, you won’t be able to make it. Push. Life will suck, but it’s not about you; it’s about the team.’ When you carry this mentality around with you, even when you’re out of the military, you still carry the pain.”

After unsuccessful, medication-heavy treatment from the VA, a friend recommended SHARE, and Turner found hope and healing.

“I wanted and didn’t want to go to SHARE. I didn’t want to talk about my feelings and do the ‘Kumbaya’ thing. That’s not me. But that wasn’t SHARE. There is dignity there. They treat you like a human being, with kindness and respect. I am thankful for SHARE. It may sound cliché, but it saved my life.”

At SHARE, staff members explained the symptoms and treatments of Turner’s injuries to him and his family, providing care to all of them together. Now Turner is largely recovered and ready to do what he can to promote awareness of injuries like his and how SHARE can help.

“People still don’t know SHARE exists. It’s more than sad that people say they love us and are thankful for us, but if you really care, listen to us. If you open your eyes, there are a lot of men and women that are suffering in silence,” Turner said.

“I can’t give back enough to SHARE. When they told me they were doing the race again this year, I asked if they would let me join them, and they said sure. I will be the slowest person out there, but I will walk if I have to, if it inspires one person to raise their hand, pick up the phone and say, ‘I need help,’” said Turner.

To support the Shepherd’s Men and the SHARE Military Initiative, please donate here today or consider becoming a sponsor. You are also invited to cheer on the runners along the route and when they arrive at Shepherd Center, their final destination, on April 26 at 1PM. They will be joined by current and former SHARE program participants during the last leg of the route.

To find out more about Shepherd’s Men, visit www.shepherdsmen.com

SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center

SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center is a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on assessment and treatment for service men and women who have sustained a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury and PTSD from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.

SHARE Military Initiative provides assistance, support, and education to service members and their families during their recovery treatment and beyond. In addition, the program compiles data that is beneficial to policy and legislative change to advocate for unfunded services.

Find out more about SHARE by visiting www.shepherd.org/patient-programs/care-for-us-service-members.

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