Veterans hike through Raleigh to prevent suicide

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- What motivates ex-military personnel to hike the streets of Raleigh on a damp and steamy Saturday?

The suicide prevention activity organizers call it the Irreverent Warriors Silkies Hike. Silkies are the abbreviated shorts some of them wore while enlisted in the armed services.

Ryan Domak-Hernandez, the hike's fundraiser lead told ABC11, "When we were in the military, hikes used to suck! So we do them now to have fun, make sure everybody gets together. These events can have 20 people or we can have 300."

"The awareness is out there," regarding the risk of suicide for veterans, said lead hiker Jeremy Walton, who served as a Marine and a soldier. "We're doing our best to bring veterans together. Even our active duty struggle through suicide and deployment stress, and family stress."

"We have 62 national hikes. We just want to make sure that every veteran knows he's not alone, and definitely prevent vet suicide," said Domak-Hernandez, a Marine veteran.

Organizers say the hike's not for civilians, just veterans, active duty, National Guard and reservists exclusively.

Veteran Loies Loyola, the hike's social media director, says it's an activity that helped him emerge from a dark period in his life.

"When you have nowhere else to go and no one else to talk to, it's gonna be these people who save your life, you know? And that's what we're here for."

The hike did include some stops at taverns along the way, Walton said:

"We like to have it because the veterans tend to gravitate to a good solid bar. Some food, maybe a beer, just to relax. Especially those who are new. They come to unwind. What better way to do it than with a fellow veteran?"

They encourage designated drivers for those who may drink too much and discourage the carrying of weapons or combat-related accessories of any kind. Instead, Loyola said, the hike's about the support of those who need it.

"They're all building these new bonds. They're shaking hands, they're laughing, they're hugging each other, they haven't seen each other for years! My friend Alicia is here and I haven't seen her since 2005. And my friend Kesha's here, yeah."

Those participants and more got involved with the hikes nationwide to help veterans successfully navigate potentially harmful choices, step by step, along life's road.
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