Ted Donaldson: Event to honor 9/11 victims

Ted Donaldson

The Compass Quest Veterans Advocacy Group has been on the Frisco Greenway in Joplin recently training for its annual endurance event, the Compass Quest 22-Kilometer Ruck March.

This march has been held for the past five years as a way to raise awareness about veteran suicides. This year, the event honors those lost since the onset of the global war on terror beginning Sept. 11, 2001.

The Spirit of 9/11 22-K Ruck March will be held on Saturday, with registration starting at 9 a.m. The event will start and end at the Redings Mill Bridge, and a portion of the march will be along trails that follow Shoal Creek.

Compass Quest, a nonprofit, was founded in 2014 by myself and Amy Donaldson. We both served in the U.S. Air Force during the global war on terror as military aviators. I flew combat missions during the first Gulf War as well as the Afghanistan War and Iraq War and was medically retired after sustaining an injury during an airlift mission. Amy served for nine years and logged more than 1,200 hours of flying.

Many people ask two questions when they learn of these events: What is a ruck march, and why do it?

A ruck march is a common military term that means to pack your individual military gear into a pack or “ruck pack” and then march or move with your unit to a new location.

As to why: Military service members, veterans and their family members often find themselves learning to navigate new terrain. The terrain may be topographic or seasonal. Sometimes the terrain is a point in time in their careers or the point of transition from military to civilian. It’s the terrain of life, and it is affected by duty, promotions, locations, austerity, family, community, amenities and many other influences, including combat. This terrain and its obstacles and difficulties are navigable because of factors such as training, skill development, maturity, discipline and camaraderie.

One thing we learn in the military is that we endure these challenges as a team. We truly understand the meaning of teamwork, and we also understand that to accomplish the mission, we must rely on our teammates, wingmen, battle buddies and others. Whether it is a 12-month deployment to a combat zone or a 10-mile full ruck march, we help each other to meet the challenges of the mission.

Another reason we ruck is that the Joplin community also has a U.S. Army Reserve military police unit and a Missouri National Guard engineering unit that will deploy into combat operations later this year. We need to support these community members and their families as well.

We do this with others so that when we get to the end we know we have accomplished an arduous task with the help and camaraderie of others; we endure together.

Our efforts at Compass Quest to help other veterans is driven by the desire to ensure no one is left behind. Whether it’s about navigating services within the VA or connecting to services and providers in the local area, we work as a team to help transitioning military and veterans overcome obstacles that hinder the pursuit of wellness.

Along the way, we hope to provide veterans who struggle with moral injuries and post-traumatic stress the tools that help them heal. When we train by carrying our ruck along the Frisco Greenway, we are transported to another time — a time when we rucked with our fully loaded packs for seemingly eternal distances as a team. We sweated and struggled, but we also laughed and joked. When it was over, we had a shared experience that concluded with a “well done” for having completed the task. We also made sure we left no one behind. This is an integral component of who we are as veterans.

Since 9/11, total casualties in all theaters of operations for all military members is 7,010 deaths as of Aug. 3; the total wounded is 52,865.

We find ourselves having navigated 18 years of time and terrain since the global war on terror began. People don’t have to support the wars, but our country must support those who have died or been wounded defending our nation. We also need to help those who have invisible wounds.

During this same time, it’s estimated that more than 144,000 veterans and serving military have taken the final act to relieve their pain by committing suicide. That number is greater than the combined U.S. military death casualties from all the wars in which we’ve fought since the beginning of the Vietnam War. It’s also greater than all those unaccounted-for prisoners of war and missing in action since the beginning of World War II. These suicides left holes in families and communities that never fully healed.

Compass Quest has been hosting practice rucks along the Frisco Greenway for several weeks. Participants meet lots of new trail users along the way, and there is often opportunity to discuss the event and talk about service to our country. This is another important component of this experience — sharing our stories with others. If you want to join us, call Compass Quest at 417-438-8387, email us at vetinfo@compassquest.org or signup on the event page: www.facebook.com/events/1299626853531755/.

Ted Donaldson is co-founder, with his wife Amy, of Compass Quest Veterans Advocacy Group in Joplin.

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