SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV)- Over a hundred past and present military members hit the streets of Savannah to bond and prevent veteran suicide.
The Silkies Hike is hosted by Irreverent Warriors, a national nonprofit. The group uses humor to connect service members so they can combat post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide.
Veterans, active-duty National Guard and Reserve service members who participate follow a tradition of wearing ‘silikies’ or running shorts.
Organizers tell News 3 this helps break down physical and emotional barriers between service members.
“It’s not, ‘oh hey’ we are raising awareness, or raising money, or research or anything else like that,” said Vice President, Nate McDonald. “This, the connections that happen on the spot, like this is what’s preventing veteran suicide.”
Stefanie Parker, a Director of Clinical and Mental Health and hike coordinator for Savannah said the approach is slightly different than other Veteran outreach groups.
“The hike itself is kind of about a walking therapy session and we are based on kind of a peer-to-peer type therapy,” said Parker. “That’s honestly just one of the most effective methods for veterans, everybody that’s in that walking element is someone you can talk to,” she said.
“Whether they have the same sense of humor or not they have the understanding of why it is that you are a little screwed up like they are.”
Although only active military members and veterans can walk the hike, civilians can serve as volunteers.
“I volunteer as a civilian for this organization because I really believe in the mission its a great group of people they are coming together for a wonderful cause,” said Emily Byers. “The mission of Irreverent Warriors is to bring veterans together using humor and comradery.”
Although sometimes hidden, McDonald said the issue of suicide is very real in the community, “the issue is veterans and military are killing themselves, everyone’s aware of the statistic, which is every day 22 military members a day are committing suicide,” said McDonald. “And that number doesn’t reflect actuality.”
But Ryan Mathes, who started his military career here in Savannah and now serves with The Security Force Assistance Brigade at Fort Benning, said this hike addresses the problem.
“You can’t fix all wounds and all wounds aren’t visible, but what you can do is make a dent and that’s what today’s about,” said Mathes. There’s nothing better than coming out here in a tropical storm to relive some of your military experience with a lot of friends that can understand and empathize with what you are going through.”