Members of The American Legion, including student veterans at Colorado State University, will participate in an event aimed at raising awareness of and preventing suicide on April 22.
Operation Bear Hug, spearheaded by the Student Veteran Organization at Colorado State, includes a 5k obstacle course, a resource fair and a concert. It was developed in 2016 after the suicides of two Colorado State students, both veterans.
Alexandria Knappe, president of Operation Bear Hug, said the SVO wanted to make an impact by addressing the issue of suicide.
“It has grown and moved directions a little bit, we focused a lot more on community than we originally anticipated,” she said. Originally aimed at getting students involved and aware, Operation Bear Hug has been successful at getting community members like the Legion involved, she said.
The Department of Colorado has supported Operation Bear Hug since its inception, with Loveland Post 15 and CSU Fort Collins Post 1879 mentoring and volunteering. The first event, on April 23, 2017, raised $30,000 in support of suicide prevention, with 16 teams participating in the obstacle course.
Department Commander Terri Clinton has made Operation Bear Hug her project this year and will be part of one of the teams participating in the April 22 event on Colorado State’s campus in Fort Collins.
While the event has grown to address suicide for all, Knappe noted that veterans “know how to start the conversation” about suicide.
“Our main goal (with Operation Bear Hug) is to provide the resources and the opportunity to have that discussion to everyone. We’ve reached out to students and to the community, we know a lot of times someone who is having suicidal thoughts, they won’t ask for help. It’s up to the outside world to identify and support them,” Knappe said.
“Our team really strives to make sure that it’s a fun and interactive way to help people. It’s not some dim and gloomy activity; this is to get people involved and talking and to provide them the opportunity to create social networks and maybe find somebody that they can talk to and open a conversation up."