Featured Photo Caption: Thirty U.S. Marine Poolees made the 22-mile Ruck March–singing and stepping in cadence–to raise funds for Adopt A Soldier’s goal to support military veterans suffering from PTSD. The young Poolees have signed up to become Marines, but have not yet left for the 13 weeks of recruit training at boot camp in San Diego or Parris Island. —photo by Karen Haave
by Karen Haave
A 22-mile hike is a challenge for just about anyone, but add 90-plus degree temperatures, bright sun, hot pavement and heavy backpacks, and it becomes a test of human determination.
One hundred thirty-eight determined humans took that test on May 28 for the third annual Ruck March to bring attention, awareness and solutions to stop the estimated 22 military members who take their own lives every day.
The Tinley Park to Peotone hike took an unexpected, heart-rending turn that night when a 28-year-old veteran tried to commit suicide in Michigan.
“A Rucker got the call on Monday,” said ‘Military Mom’ Sue Wackerlin, “and they reached out to Adopt a Soldier for help, as the soldier is from Illinois. He is returning home ASAP, and we are making arrangements to aid him and his family.”
Wackerlin, founder of Adopt A Soldier, co-ordinator of the Ruck March, and an ordained minister, said she felt blessed to be able to help, especially since it is “what Ruck March is all about.”
“God is awesome,” she added.
“The funds raised may have been down this year, but the mission is complete! All praise and glory to Him!”
The event last year raised $12,000, and even if this year’s total is a bit less, all funds will go to finding solutions, identifying the families who need help, and developing support systems for them, Wackerlin emphasized.
The fundraiser is named for the heavy-duty rucksacks (backpacks) military members wear to carry their gear when they are on deployment. When loaded, they can weigh 50 pounds or more.
The march stepped off at 7 a.m., and participants had a couple stops for rest and refueling, but skipped the last one scheduled on Route 50 in Peotone. The group agreed they just wanted to press on and get to the Will County Fairgrounds to finish as quickly as possible.
Joshua Klootwyk, 12, participated last year and again on May 28 to honor his older brother, Sgt. Michael Lane, a U.S. Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton.
“It was worse this year,” he admitted, “because of the heat”
Joshua’s mom, Rachel, made the hike with him and agreed that this year’s weather was unbearable.
“The heat was a factor right off the bat,” she said.
Even though she trained for the march with daily, 5 a.m. trips to a Manteno gym – ”It didn’t matter” – the 90-degree heat was a mitigating circumstance, sapping everyone’s energy.
Most of the participants were there as individuals, but a group of U.S. Marine Poolees marched as a group, chanting in cadence as they took the 44,000 steps for the cause. (A Poolee is an individual who has signed up to become a Marine, but has not yet left for the 13 weeks of recruit training at boot camp in San Diego or Parris Island.)
The Ruck March is an offshoot of Sue Wackerlin’s commitment to American veterans, which began in 2012 when she founded Adopt A Soldier to give encouragement and support to local men and women – and their families – as they headed to deployment. The send-off includes a Coining Ceremony and a promise that “Wherever you are, whatever you need, we will be here for you. We are just a phone call away.”
Wackerlin and her friends have made good on that promise on more than one occasion, helping soldiers get home for family emergencies, replacing one soldier’s furniture and belongings stolen from her apartment when she was on deployment, and supporting those afflicted by combat.
Adopt A Soldier is a 501c3 not for profit organization. For more information about its programs, go to peotoneaas.org.