More than 300 active and retired military members will be running down Western Boulevard Saturday wearing tiny green shorts and combat boots.
The Irreverent Warriors Silkies Hike covers about 13.67 miles and raises awareness for the 22 veteran suicides that happen each day, according to their Facebook page. Runners wear “silkies,” which are “minuscule, green physical training shorts made famous by the Marines,” and each carry 48.5 pounds in a backpack.
“I’m very excited about this. It’s unreal,” said Sgt. Christal Dunaway.
Dunaway, a nine-year veteran of the , began planning the event in September when she reached out to Irreverent Warriors about bringing the hike to Jacksonville. This Saturday will bring the first hike of its kind to the Jacksonville area.
The hike is of special interest to Dunaway, who has a personal connection with suicide. A close friend of hers shot himself in the face, Dunaway said.
“Suicide is just a really ugly thing,” she said. “I don’t understand, so I just couldn’t let that go.”
For Dunaway, that meant raising awareness through the hike.
By recruiting Jacksonville restaurants and businesses, Dunaway has gathered hundreds of bottles of water, sports drinks and snacks. There will also be donuts, coffee and pizza available for the hikers. She didn’t accept any monetary donations — only items the hikers could use, drink or eat the day of the hike.
“It’s truly been a lot of planning, but I’ve got everybody on board,” Dunaway said.
Right now the weather is showing clear, sunny skies for Saturday, but even if a storm blows through the hike will go on, Dunaway said. Suicide doesn’t take a rain check, and neither will she.
“Rain sleet or snow, it can hail and I’m still going to hike,” Dunaway said. “I’ll hike alone if I have to.”
T-shirts will be available to purchase for $20 each. The group will begin at 9 a.m. at Northeast Creek Park, located at 910 Corbin St. in Jacksonville, and stop at numerous places throughout the hike. The group will stay on the sidewalks throughout the entire hike.
The stops will include Twin Peaks, Applebee’s, O-Charley’s, Mission BBQ and end at Longhorn. Then the hikers will turn around and head straight back to the park to end the hike. Onslow County residents are invited to visit any of the stops along the hike to show their support or volunteer to help.
Irreverent Warriors aims to bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to reduce PTSD and prevent veteran suicide, according to the nonprofit’s website at silkieshike.com.
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