In early 2007 Dave Wenkel picked up his phone to news he hoped he’d never hear.
His friend and fellow U.S. Marine, Sgt. Daniel Jonas Cook, had taken his own life at age 28 after returning home from two tours in Iraq. His widow had called to deliver the news.
Wenkle hung up in disbelief, hugged his wife and let the tears fall.
“The last time I saw him we were standing in Iraq,” he said.
Wenkel had no idea how frequently veterans die by suicide until recently, when his Facebook news feed was suddenly filled with “22 Pushup Challenge” videos. The social media trend is intended to raise awareness about veteran suicides with participants doing 22 pushups daily.
“It’s a devastating number,” Wenkel said.
The Beulah resident joined in the pushup challenge on social media, but he also wanted to do something to reach out to fellow veterans in his community. He sees the military license plate borders, embroidered ball caps and flags proudly flown in front yards and wonders if any of those men and women are in need of support.
“Knowing that there’s a large community up here, there’s got to be some veterans who are struggling,” Wenkel said. “We want to give them somewhere to go.”
He and five other area veterans formed 22-2-None to show their support and combat veteran suicide. They hope to have their nonprofit status approved by the end of the year.
The group’s first event is a 22-mile-hike on Oct. 22 from the Milton Township Fire Department in Kewadin to Bryant Park in Traverse City. The hike aims to bring people together to march in solidarity with veterans and break through the stigma surrounding mental health that may prevent some people from seeking help.
“We’re not untouchable. We’re not that different than anybody else,” said Ray McDaniel, also a U.S. veteran and 22-2-None board member. “Veterans have demons that they’re fighting, either from post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury or from getting out and assimilating to society.”
McDaniel hopes the hike will help the public understand the issue and motivate them to take action, whether they participate in the walk or not.
“There’s things that can be done, and we don’t just have to leave it in the hands of the VA or other organizations,” he said. “The normal, everyday Joe Schmo on the street can help out.”
Wenkel, McDaniel and the rest of the 22-2-None board – Ben Gunderson, U.S. ; Tabitha Beach, U.S. Air Force; David Findley, U.S. ; Chris Greening, U.S. Army Reserve – have been training to make sure they can each complete the 22.9-mile hike. They don weighted packs and walk their neighborhoods and build strength through the pushup challenge.
Organizers aim to leave Milton Township Fire Department at 8 a.m. and arrive at Bryant Park by about 4 p.m. But participants don’t have to complete the entire route, Wenkel said. The hike is broken up into four legs, which vary from 4 to 7.2 miles, and hikers are welcome to start and stop at any point.
“The more people who are there, the more veterans will know there’s so many people who care and so many people who (they) can reach out and talk to,” Wenkel said.
There is no registration fee, but 22-2-None will be collecting donations to benefit Reining Liberty Ranch and the family of Stephanie Lawrence, who was killed in an all-terrain vehicle crash. Lawrence’s husband, Derek, is a U.S. Army veteran and was badly injured in the incident.
Visit 222none.weebly.com to register, donate or for more information.