COLUMBIA, North Carolina. -- On an unseasonably warm and humid September morning along a northern coastal Carolina highway, a group of Soldiers on bicycles were on a mission to bring awareness to the perils of suicide in the Army.
Soldiers assigned to Fort Bragg participated in the Veteran Suicide Awareness Bike Ride that went across the state of North Carolina September 23-27, 2019.
The ride began in Butler, Tennessee and concluded at Nags Head, located in Dare County, North Carolina, the easternmost point in the state.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Richard "Ricky" Love, a North Wilkesboro, North Carolina native, led this ride comprised of a series of stops to pay homage to the memories of fallen veterans.
"There were 19 segments in this ride to highlight the stories of 19 veterans who had a family and served," Love said. "It was to bring out the names of veterans and their stories in each segment; 19 stories of veterans who had a family and were known in their communities," he continued.
Each memorial stop on this ride was the result of a friend or family member of the fallen veteran submitting a memorial inclusion request form to Ricky [Love] during the planning phase of the ride.
Each stop was at a checkpoint in the general area where each respective veteran was laid to rest.
Spc. Russell Hill, a geospatial engineer assigned to the 64th Engineer Topographic Battalion and Charlotte, North Carolina native organized the ride to raise money to donate to a non-profit organization for the treatment of veterans who may be suicidal.
"The first two stops were heart-warming because the people at each stop showed us so much hospitality by feeding us and giving us time to recover," Hill said. "Each segment, after stopping at veteran's memorial, gave us time to reflect and think about what someone is going through," he continued.
Hill also spoke of the importance of leadership and relying on "your battle buddy" as well as his relationship with Chief Love.
"Working out and training with Chief Love a couple time a week is how I formed a bond with him," said Hill. "It's important to take care of yourself and others and take the time to ask someone how they're doing and truly mean it because that could be all that person needs to prevent them from committing suicide," he continued.
Spc. Federico Sanchez, a geospatial engineer assigned to the 64th Engineer Topographic Battalion and native of Gilroy, California, served as a safety driver for this ride by providing a barrier between the riders and traffic approaching from the rear, spoke of how he got involved.
"When I heard about Chief [Love] doing a bike ride and needing help, I didn't question the cause because it was led by him and I knew I wanted to help," Sanchez said.
One of the stops included a visit to a Veterans of Foreign Wars Post where Chief Love spoke to members about the ride
"While at a VFW, Chief [Love] said something during a speech that was so powerful that we got to witness seeing a wheelchair bound Vietnam Veteran reach and grab a support beam to pull himself up to stand and clap," Sanchez added.
During the ride, participants were able to experience true "southern hospitality" at stops along the way.
"When we stopped at Stork's Rest Farm, LLC in Sims, North Carolina, I was surprised at how welcoming the owners were," Sanchez said. "They made us feel like family by serving us dinner and breakfast," he continued.
Charity events like the Veteran Suicide Awareness Bike Ride shed light on a problem that affects the Families of veterans on a daily basis as well as allows people to relate to the fallen.
"In your everyday life, you're crossing paths with people who you could possibly prevent from committing suicide," Chief Love, concluded. The goal of this ride was to encourage people to be mindful of the impact their interactions with other people may have.