Friday morning, 22 U.S. military veterans climbed into boats and set out on the Congaree River. They will spend the next eight days paddling down the river to Charleston, in the hope that the 175-mile trip will raise awareness of a disorder that has led to the deaths of many men and women who once fought beside them.
Each of the 22 paddlers represents one of the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide every day, according to a 2012 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The organizers of the river trip hope to prevent some of those deaths by making people aware of the dangers of post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects many men and women who have been in combat.
“We don’t have to lose 22 every day,” said Bobby Farmer, CEO of Project Josiah and primary organizer of the journey, known as the 175 Mile PTSD River Challenge. “We can do this as a community.”
Farmer said a lot of planning went into the trip, which he says will become an annual event.
“We’re seeing this as a way we can highlight PTSD,” he said, adding that he hopes to get local schools involved next year. “It needs to be generational.”
SC supporters set 175-mile river trip for military veterans
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Twenty-two South Carolina combat veterans are paddling 175 miles from Columbia to Charleston in a weeklong effort to bond and help veterans deal with issues related to combat and stress.
“It’s not meant to be an easy trip,” said Chaplain Bobby Farmer, a Vietnam veteran and an event organizer. “It’s meant to give veterans a challenge, and a chance to bond. It’s something they need to do.”
The 64-year-old Presbyterian minister said he’s found that military veterans who may have to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder get strength from the company of others.
“They benefit when they share the company of those men and women who have experienced what they have experienced,” Farmer said.
Farmer, who leads a group of veterans in a weekly support group in Columbia, worked with nurse Susan Benesh and a local kayaking and canoe club to set up the venture.
“We have some kayaks, canoes and several pontoon boats that will accompany the veterans down the rivers,” Farmer said in a telephone interview. “We have several spots, rather rough ones, where we will camp to spend the night.”
Farmer said the veterans group includes men and women in their 30s and 40s who served primarily in the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts.
Benesh said she’s accompanying the group because she has training in wilderness medicine and is also an avid paddler.