HAMILTON - Statistics show that 22 veterans a day on average commit suicide in the U.S., and Montana is one of the top three states in the country for the highest veteran suicide rates.
Ravalli County resident Landen Conner — an ROTC member at Carroll College — created Operation 22 to raise awareness of veteran suicide. Operation 22, which includes a 22-mile ruck through the Bitterroot, will take place on Saturday, June 16, 2023, starting at 6 a.m.
“Operation 22 off the statistic that 22 veterans end up committing suicide a day which is a very dismal statistic that this mission wants to improve where we want to drop that number. Operation 22 is to bring community awareness around veteran suicide because it still is a stigmatized problem and we don’t have the resources in smaller local communities like where I live so combat it, so this is meant to bring more awareness around it,” Conner said.
Conner told MTN News that there was one event that started the idea to do more for his local community.
“Last fall, in September, I ended up coming across a news article where a Helena military man ended up taking his life which as a ROTC member was kind of new to me. I didn’t know how prevalent veteran suicide was and current military suicide as well," Conner said. "So that kind of took me down a rabbit hole of investigating veteran statistics, where Montana stands as a whole, and looking at the different local veteran organizations and seeing how poorly resources they are and trying to fit the need where it’s needed."
A ruck is done with a 35-pound rucksack which is an Army-issued item. Conner will be walking for this ruck, starting at the Robert Anthony Leonardi Trail and ending at the Veterans Memorial behind the Dairy Queen in Hamilton.
Conner has an important message for all veterans in the Bitterroot area, "Veterans are cared for by the community and I want all the military locals to they are cared for, you are cared for and to also know that local organizations need help, we have people willing to help so reach out."
Conner also urged local veteran organizations to reach out to their community for help, because there are members of the community that are willing to help.
If you are interested in donating, you can visit the Veteran’s Victory Alliance website.
If you or someone you know might be struggling with mental health, you can call 988, text MT or 741741, or call 911.