Lots of folks walk for different reasons.
Some do it for exercise. Some do it for relaxation and recreation. Some do it just to get where they’re going. And some walk for a good cause.
On Saturday, Sept. 8, people are invited to take a 23-mile walk along M-24 as part of the Third Annual Ruck for the Fallen, an event designed to raise funds for struggling veterans and remind them they’re not forgotten.
“Sometimes vets come back from war and they (feel) alienated. They get stuck in areas or neigborhoods that are not very veteran-friendly and they think that this is (how) the world (views) them,” said event organizer Joseph Gemayel, a 36-year-old Hadley Township resident who was deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan as a member of the Illinois National Guard. “The more people we have come out and participate (in Ruck for the Fallen), the more we can show our veteran community (that) there are people out here who care (about) us, there are people that support us,”
Ruck for the Fallen walkers will gather at the Orion Veterans Memorial, then head north along M-24 until they reach Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4139 in Lapeer.
Registration begins at 6 a.m. There will be a ceremony at 7:30 a.m. The walk starts at 8 a.m.
According to Gemayel, it should take participants anywhere from six to nine hours to complete the trek, depending on how physically fit they are and how many breaks they take.
It costs $30 to participate as a walker. Volunteers can take part in the event for free.
As of Aug. 30, Gemayel said approximately 80 walkers had signed up along with about 20 volunteers. People can register at their website or on the day of the event.
“We’re definitely still looking for sponsors,” Gemayel noted. “We’re a little bit low this year for some reason. We’re definitely looking for a few more.”
Ruck for the Fallen raises awareness and funds for Project Brotherhood Resolve (PBR), which was founded in 2016 by Gemayel, a National Guardsman since 2001.
PBR’s mission is to address the problems of homelessness and suicide in the veteran community through intervention.
Instead of raising funds via a golf outing or motorcycle event, Gemayel chooses to conduct a walk because it’s a simple activity almost everyone can engage in – no special skills or equipment required. “We don’t want to exclude anybody from participating,” he said. “We want to invite everybody.”
There’s also a high degree of visibility involved with having a large group of people moving along a state highway.
“We want to be out there in the public (eye),” he explained. “We want to raise questions. We want the public to ask what’s going on. Last year, we had a lot of (drivers) pull off the road, come up (to us) and ask what we were doing.”
Participants are welcome to walk with rucksacks strapped to their backs.
“It’s (about) carrying the weight of the ones (who) have fallen,” Gemayel said. “In the military, we call it a ruck. In the civilian world, it’s a hiking backpack, If they choose to walk with a rucksack, that’s up to them. The weight is up to them as well. We had people carry up to 75 pounds last year.”
Gemayel, who was born in Lebanon, came to the U.S. in 1994 and became naturalized in 2006, founded PBR after one of his brothers-in-arms died by suicide.
“I felt there was a need for me to get involved,” he said.
PBR’s mission is to locate homeless veterans through personal outreach, re-house them through intervention and raise funds through private, personal and business donations.
Gemayel is dedicated to “making sure” veterans “are getting the help they need” – whether it’s a roof over their heads or counseling – to “get back into society and get back on track.”
One of PBR’s goals is to secure property to give homeless veterans a safe place to live for as long as they need to overcome their issues and begin rebuilding their lives.
“We’re looking at partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Lapeer-Tuscola and getting a house up in Vassar that will be one of our first veteran homes,” Gemayel said. “We are looking for an architect to draw up some plans for us. If they would like to donate their time, Habitat (for Humanity) can give them a tax deduction (for) that.”