BONNERS FERRY — Men and women who have given so much for our country are losing their lives at home, by their own hand, at an alarming rate. In response, Active Heroes, a 501c3 Charity, organizes ruck-marches called “Carry The Fallen.”
On Sept. 15, Bonners Ferry and the surrounding area welcomed people to a Carry the Fallen event, organized by a team of volunteers, led by Team Leader John Riddle. The goal of the event was to bring awareness to the community of the burdens that veterans and military families carry.
The event was a three-hour weighted ruck march, beginning at The Log Inn, traveling by road and trail down to the Boundary County Fairgrounds and back up again. The march, and the weight carried, symbolized the burden that veterans carry with them, such as depression, anger, PTSD and anxiety.
The Log Inn hosted the event, with many booths and activities, from lunch served by Two Tones Cafe, to bounce houses for children. Opening ceremonies began at 10:30 a.m. Dr. Allen Seely from the VA Medical Center spoke to the crowd about the statistics of veteran suicides, warning signs, and actions to take.
The Presentation of the Colors was done by the Patriot Guard, then Skye Campbell took to the stage, with her singing of the Star-Spangled Banner giving some of the crowd goosebumps, as the flags waved patriotically in the wind.
The marchers then donned their packs and prepared for the long hike. The sun was out, the sky blue, and there was a crispness to the air. The feelings seemed to range from steadfast dedication, with a certain amount of solemness under the weight of the situation, to hope and comradeship.
The reasons that brought everyone together carried a similar theme, but the stories were all slightly different.
“I am here because I feel a strong connection to the veterans and the veterans that are having problems, and I would like to do whatever I can to help them,” said Navy Veteran Ken Beck, Jr., who came down from Eastport to march.
Idaho Army National Guard Private Second Class Matthew Foubert grew up in a military family and his brother is currently a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force. He recently got back from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and chose to participate in the march.
“It is just a good cause and something that should be recognized by everybody — the great sacrifices that people make for their family and their country,” said Foubert as he set out on the march. “Freedom isn’t free. It is something that should be earned. That is what brings me here today.”
Standing out among the marchers was Megan Fryberger, a mother with two young children, ages two and three, in a tandem stroller, and a nine month old baby on her back.
“I had a brother in the military, some uncles, and other family members,” she said, as she pushed the stroller along the gravel road at the beginning of the march. “I just appreciate all they do and want to support them.”
Kristin James, the planner/organizer for the event, looked over the marchers as she planned to set off with them on the three hour hike.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words, to be honest,” she said, eyes scanning the gathering crowd of around 50 marchers. “It is kind of surreal that it is all coming together. It is amazing to see so many people coming out for such a great event and a great cause.”
The grounds of The Log Inn quieted when the marchers set off, only to roar back to life when they returned. Children bounced in houses or got paint on their faces, and people lined up for lunch or a cold beer from the Big Daddy’s beer garden.
Meghan Flory helped run a booth for children to keep them entertained.
“We have rocks, and paint, and coloring to keep them busy and encouraging them to maybe paint a rock for someone in their family that served in the military and give it as a gift,” said Flory. “We have some paper for card making if they want to send a card to a veteran or someone in their family.”
Flory had joined the march and met a few gentlemen from Arizona who were here training some people at the Border Patrol in Eastport.
“They saw the flyer for this walk and wanted to be involved so we even got some out of towners,” said Flory. “Everyone is in good spirits today and it is for a good cause so it was a great time. It was beautiful scenery and a beautiful day.”
Flory had joined the march to support the local veterans.
“My boyfriend is a vet. He did six tours in Iraq, ” she said. “He couldn’t be here today so I wanted to walk for both him and me, and for a lot of our friends and family, who have served in the military.”
Three more speakers took to the stage, relaying stories to the crowd, some bringing a tear to the corner of watching eyes. Veteran Ken Toline gave a personal account of losing a veteran to suicide, and the impact that it leaves, like a scattered trail, through the family and friends left behind.
Molly High read an obituary of a 36 year old veteran who died by her own hands, but was convinced that it was a stranger that had her at gunpoint. The devastation of PTSD was evident throughout the story, and photos of the young woman only added to the impact.
High grew up in Bonners Ferry but has since moved to Ocean Shores, Wash. She knew she had to return for this event
“My husband and I are working on furthering our education,” explained High, whose husband also talked to the gathering. “I am working on my doctorate in clinical psychology and he is working on his masters in counseling psychology, so we can work with vets, law enforcement and military.”
Finishing off the day was a raffle drawing, a silent auction and a live auction. All together the event raised more than $12,000.
“I was thoroughly amazed at how many people we had come out to the first event,” said James. “It was such a success in my books and I hope the community enjoyed themselves and look forward to next year.”