Game ball makes its way to Memorial Stadium for veteran suicide awareness

The ball is one of the "things they carry" as student veteran groups from Iowa and Nebraska bring awareness to a continuing problem.

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – You can’t have much of a football game without a ball. That ball is making its way from Iowa City to Lincoln as part of the 6th annual The Things They Carry Ruck March. It’s a journey organized by student veteran groups from both schools to highlight the longstanding problem of veteran suicide.

The journey consists of a pair of 20-mile treks, each day for five days. Each “rucker” carries 20 pounds. There’s symbolism in those “20”s: an estimated 20 veterans commit suicide each day.

In addition to raising awareness, the march is important for the people who take part. “We just want to… let people know that there’s a community out here that really supports you guys”, says UNL Student Veterans Treasurer Tyler Kluthe. “We’re always here to lend a helping hand or an ear to listen, or anything we can do to help.”

“For me, it’s definitely very therapeutic”, says student veteran Michael Mahanes. He calls it “a time that I can spend with my friends and just be together, in that moment.”

Mahanes tells how the march becomes the only thing that matters when everyone is in that moment. While they carry the ball and their belongings, they shed off problems. “Stressors of schoolwork, family. Just be together and build each other up”, he says.

That positive take on the march is a common one, according to Kluthe. “I’ve heard all different things from people we’ve met along the way: ‘Hey this has helped me a lot’, or ‘this has helped a certain individual a lot’, or ‘this is such a great cause that you guys are doing and we’re glad you’re doing it’.” Kluthe says he’s noticed a lot of appreciation for what they’re doing.

In addition to the ball that will be used when Iowa visits Memorial Stadium on the 26th, this group is carrying memories. Memories of the other marches they’ve been on, memories of their time in the service, memories of friends they’ve met along the way, and the memories of those veterans who we’ve lost after they came home.

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