FORT BRAGG, N.C. –Chief Warrant Officer Richard (Ricky), a geospatial engineering technician, 64th Geospatial Planning Cell, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, is on a mission with only one goal in mind.
His mission: to bike 430 miles across North Carolina. His goal: to raise awareness on veteran suicide and remember Special Operation Soldiers who lost their life to suicide.
Biking across the state has its own rewards, but raising awareness for veteran suicide has become his passion.
Ricky, who struggled with his own happiness, eventually turned to helping others as a way to cope with depression.
“I haven’t always been the energetic happy-go-lucky Chief I am now,” he said. “For years I struggled with severe anxiety, depression, and was diagnosed with PTSD.”
Ricky didn’t believe in resiliency, family first or taking care of himself. Eventually he ended up at a dead end.
“After a recent high operations tempo [deployment] to Afghanistan, with 18 hours, seven days a week with a high demand job, I reached my burn out,” Ricky explained.
“Soon after the deployment I had to seek counseling for lack of energy, not sleeping, irritability, and mental exhaustion. That’s when I learned about self-care, sleep hygiene, resiliency, and that it’s okay to not be okay all the time,” Ricky continued.
It was in search for healing that Ricky took on road biking, a hobby recommended by his cousin. Although initially hesitant, Ricky’s connection to biking was instant.
“I can’t explain the feeling of being on the road, on a bike, that I have complete control over,” Ricky remarked. “While riding, I think about riding. Soon, it was a passion, hobby, and lifestyle. My mental health, physical fitness, and home life has made a 180-degree turn.”
Ricky’s new passion eventually led him to doing triathlons. It was both the physical and mental challenge that became his coping mechanism. His decision to bike across the state with his cousin led to a bigger goal – to raise awareness for veteran suicide.
“I chose this because of the struggles that my cousin had as a combat infantryman veteran and how the issue had become a rising topic in the Army recently,” he explained.
Capt. Traci, Group Behavioral Health officer, 4th Psychological Operations Group, notes that the rate of veteran suicide is sobering.
“According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, there are over 6,000 veteran suicides per year,” Traci said. “The best estimate is that we lose almost 16.8 veterans a day to suicide.”
Traci believes that some of the contributing factors for veterans include the lack of access to necessary behavioral health specialists who are trained to deal with veteran-specific issues.
“Service Members are trained and exposed to difficult things that an ordinary civilian may not understand,” Traci continued. “This lack of understanding can leave veterans struggling to connect with providers and people outside of the military.”
Ricky’s commitment to raising suicide awareness didn’t stop with just a declaration. He enlisted the help of a few of his teammates. Teammates joining him for his latest ride include: Sgt. Russell and Sgt. Christopher, geospatial engineer sergeants; Pfc. Stone, Spc. Braylan and Pvt. Christopher, geospatial engineer analysts, all assigned to the 64th Geospatial Planning Cell; and CW2 Daniel, geospatial engineering technician, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade and Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas, civil affairs sergeant, 98th Civil Affairs, Battalion.
He also joined forces with Mission 22, a nonprofit organization that supports veterans and their treatment programs, memorials and community social impact.
Ricky has been riding for veterans suicide for more than a year and continues to make strides in raising awareness as he garners support from local organizations.
Ricky’s advice to those wanting to help, “Be a compassionate and empathetic leader; ask often how people are and pay attention to their behavior and demeanor; let people know you don’t expect them to be perfect, show appreciation and keep in touch with your friends and family that get out of the military.”
If you are an active-duty service member, veteran, or friend or family and are experiencing an immediate crisis, call the Veteran Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or text 838255 for immediate 24/7 help.