Shepherd's Men, a group of active duty military members, veterans and civilians run daily wearing 22lb flak jackets in an effort to raise awareness of veteran suicide, and raise money for the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center, which is a brain and spinal cord rehabilitation center. On Wednesday, May 23, 2018, the eight runners made their way through downtown Indianapolis, Ind., and ended their run at the Indianapolis Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial. Photo by Lucas Carter / The American Legion.

Shepherd's Men Run aims to 'do more' for veterans

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It’s no coincidence that the Shepherd’s Men Run begins each year on May 22, or that each day’s run is 22 kilometers, or that the participants run while wearing 22-pound flak jackets. Not with 22 veterans a day taking their own lives.

The Shepherd’s Men Run is the primary fundraiser for the SHARE Military Initiative, an acute comprehensive treatment program at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center, for post-9/11 veterans returning with traumatic brain injury. The run was founded about 4 ½ years ago by Marine Corps Master Sgt. Troy Campbell and Travis Ellis.

“We wanted to do more,” Ellis said Wednesday after the group’s run in Indianapolis, the second of seven cities they’ll run in leading up to Monday’s final run in Atlanta. “We saw ourselves as having a voice, having a forum to go out there and try to make a difference, and once you go and you see what happens firsthand, you see the victories produced through this program, it inspires you to do more.

“And if it means we put ourselves through some sort of physical hardship for a week to 10 days, so be it. That’s finite, it will go away, but the pain that a lot of these men and women are in right now, the injuries they bear from combat that aren’t visible to the naked eye, that’s why we do it. You think back to the generation of Vietnam veterans and how underserved they were, and I think we see it as our obligation to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself and to make sure we do everything in our power to try to lift up those in need.”

Ellis noted that one of every five servicemembers who have deployed in the global war on terror has returned with a neurological trauma. The SHARE program helps clients through physical, occupational, vocational and speech therapies; life coaching, therapeutic recreation; and legal, financial and psychological counseling.

Ellis said that while care is provided at no cost to the client, it does cost the Shepherd Center about $35,000 per person for the 10-12 week program. And with little to no funding from the federal and state governments, Ellis said Shepherd’s Men have “made it our mission, our obligation, to fund it.”

Those funds come through donations which can be made online at www.shepherdsmen.com/donate/.

On each leg of the run, community members are encouraged to run or walk with the team, even if only partway, or just to cheer.

The first four years, the Run stayed mainly on the East Coast, Ellis said.

“We wanted to get into uncharted geographic landscape for this mission,” he said. This year’s run started with Chicago as a way of thanking one of the fundraiser’s large corporate sponsors.

Indianapolis, Ellis said, was a natural fit because of the presence of The American Legion National Headquarters. “Such a patriotic city, and a city who has paid an ultimate and heavy price in conflict over the course of our republic, seems fitting that we’re in Indy.”

The rest of the Run includes Thursday in Louisville, Friday in Nashville, Saturday in Johnson City, Tenn., and Sunday in Athens, Ga., before wrapping up Memorial Day in Atlanta.

“We know that there’s probably someone within a three- to five-mile radius who needs the services of this program, someone who’s come back from theater, someone who’s feeling isolated, alone, probably hasn’t left their basement for a month, and we want this to be a vehicle for outreach for that person to let them know that there’s an opportunity for hope, an opportunity for help, and there’s a place to find wellness and hopefully purpose at the SHARE Initiative in Atlanta,” Ellis said.

For more information, go to www.shepherdsmen.com/.