UA VIP program graduate completes 68-mile Ruck for Veteran Suicide Awareness

UA VIP program graduate completes 68-mile Ruck for Veteran Suicide Awareness

Jacob Blankenship, U.S. Marine veteran, United Association Veterans in Piping (UA VIP) Camp Pendleton program graduate and member of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Service Technicians Local 776, Lima, Ohio, organized a 68-mile ruck for veteran suicide awareness. 

Blankenship was a Field Radio Operator with the 2nd Battalion 1st Marines. After he read the book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger, he was inspired to begin this journey. 

One quote specifically hit home for him: “If contemporary America doesn’t develop ways to publicly confront the emotional consequences of the war, those consequences will continue to burn a hole through the vets themselves.” 

Blankenship was diagnosed with PTSD from his time in the Marine Corps and has personally experienced the struggles veterans face with suicidal thoughts, which too often lead to committing suicide. 

“After getting out, all my buddies went their own ways,” he said. “We keep in contact every now and then, but sometimes a lot of those phone calls or text messages are in the middle of the night saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m ready to give it all up.’ When we were deployed overseas, I lost one of my best friends to suicide. He hung himself. I am just sick and tired of it. Something has to change. I haven’t personally seen much going on for veterans’ suicide awareness.” 

Taking matters into his own hands, Blankenship began organizing a fundraiser. He raised $3,000 and donated it to the Headstrong Project because 97 cents of every $1 goes toward helping veterans. 

The Headstrong Project is a non-profit mental health organization providing confidential, barrier-free and stigma-free PTSD treatment to our veterans, service members and family connected to their care. 

Blankenship said the Headstrong Project helps with everything from couples therapy, to individuals, to the kids, to parenting, no matter what year you got out and no matter what your discharge was. 

This was huge to Blankenship because he said he knew a lot of good guys, but they ended up getting in trouble, so they got out with a negative discharge. 

Blankenship’s story will be the cover of Headstrong Project’s next campaign. When Local 776 learned about his fundraiser, they donated $1,000. 

“They surprised me, that’s for sure,” Blankenship said. “I think it’s a cool thing that Local 776 got behind it. It’s getting the community involved and getting awareness out of veterans’ mental health.”

Blankenship’s ruck gains attraction 

The route Blankenship walked started at the Hancock County Courthouse in Findlay, Ohio and finished in Tawawa Park in Sidney, Ohio. Originally, the ruck was supposed to be 50 miles, but Blankenship made it 68 miles to symbolize his journey since he got into the military. 

Recently, Blankenship moved to Findlay to help his mom, and his military journey began in Sidney. 

“I thought how cool it would be to start this where I’m at now and finish where everything started, bringing it full circle,” Blankenship said. “Trying to get into the military right out of high school, I was overweight. I was 320 lbs., and they said I had to be down to 200 lbs. Within one year, I dropped 120 lbs. to ship out.” 

Rucking is walking or hiking a set distance while carrying a weight in a backpack, which is historically used in military training. Blankenship carried 50 lbs. in his backpack. 

“We did more than this when I was in,” Blankenship said. “I didn’t want it to be too light; I wanted it to be a challenge, and it was a challenge! These vets fought their demons for so long and lost their battles with them, and the whole point of this was to suffer, to go through it and let them know they’re not alone, even when they’re hurting.”

Blankenship walked straight through the night, taking him 22 hours to complete the ruck. He was joined by one other person, a woman, who rucked 16 of the miles with him. 

The fundraiser gained traction mostly by word of mouth and he had a lot of support along the way. 

The Findlay Hancock Sheriff’s Department gave him an escort from the courthouse to the county line and an ambulance escorted him the last 16 miles to the finish line. 

Blankenship said what kept him going were the people who decorated the streets of his route with pictures of their friends and family who committed suicide.

“When I was asked, ‘Are you going to quit?’, I said, ‘Well, our demons don’t quit, so I can’t,’” Blankenship said. “It was helpful when a lot of my friends from high school, my uncle and a bunch of other buddies came out for the last eight miles, and I was dead to the world, and they picked me right back up, they grabbed the pack and the flag, taking all the weight off and we trucked it all the way to the end.”

After he completed the ruck, Blankenship had to be wheelchaired into the house and was eventually taken to the ER.

“They told me I was severely swollen and they said they would not recommend that again, but I said it’s too late,” Blankenship said. “It took off like a wildfire. I didn’t realize how big the message was, I just thought it was something I was going through.”

Despite the doctor’s recommendation, Blankenship plans to organize another ruck and hopefully raise more money next year for this important cause. 

Email him at [email protected] for further information.