JROTC cadets participate in ruck march for soldier suicide awareness

By BRITTANY FHOLER

Cove Leader-Press 

 

The Copperas Cove High School JROTC cadets joined forces with a teacher and her husband in marching to raise awareness about the soldier suicide rate with a three-mile Stop Soldier Suicide Ruck March Friday afternoon. 

The cadets met in front of the high school at 4 p.m. with their ruck sacks and set off on their march around 4:30 p.m., with CCHS teacher Mary Beth Chaparro and her husband, Chris, who is an active-duty soldier, leading the way. 

Stop Soldier Suicide is an organization founded in 2010 by three Army veterans that is working to reduce the military and veteran suicide rates by 40 percent no later than the year 2030, which will save more than 2,400 lives per year, according to their website. Stop Soldier Suicide received a philanthropic gift of $250,000 from USAA to help fund 40 Facebook Challenges this year, beginning April 1. Across the country, people like the Chaparros are marching various distances to raise funds and awareness surrounding soldier suicide rates. 

The Chaparros are participating in the Nationwide 50-Mile Facebook Challenge for Stop Soldier Suicide sponsored by USAA, with a goal of marching 50 miles during the month of May. Mary Beth had the idea to involve the CCHS JROTC cadets for part of their journey and reached out to senior instructor Ret. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Enrique Herrera. 

Herrera jumped at the chance and so did a dozen or so cadets. 

“I think it’s pretty awesome that they’re volunteering to come out here and kind of raise awareness for this month, which is Mental Health Awareness Month,” said Chris Chaparro. “Just having them be aware of soldiers. Ever since post-9/11, after 2001, us soldiers and veterans have been losing lives to suicide, so everybody should be aware of that. This is what it’s for. Even though it’s only three miles, it’s something, and hopefully they spread the word, and people will start knowing about it.”

Chaparro added that he has lost six buddies due to suicide in the years since September 11, 2001, so this cause is close to his heart. 

In 2021, the rate of suicide deaths among active-duty troops was 36.18 per 100,000 soldiers, the highest level it has ever been since before World War II. Between 2015 and 2020, the suicide rate among active-duty service members increased by 41.4 percent, according to the report from the Defense Suicide Prevention Office. 

A total of 30,177 active-duty service members and veterans have died by suicide since 2001, according to a study released in 2021 by Brown University’s Cost of War project. 

Following the posting of the colors, the group departed from the flagpole in front of Copperas Cove High School around 4:30 p.m. and marched over to S. 25th Street, turning onto Veterans Avenue and then over to S. 27th Street, where they continued for approximately one and a half miles before turning onto Oak Hill, which ended in a cul-de-sac, before turning around and walking back to the high school. Once they hit the high school property, they turned left to walk towards the athletic fields and walked along the back of the school and then made their way to the parking lot on the side and ended back at the front of the school, for a total of approximately three miles. 

Herrera said this was the first time the cadets had done a soldier suicide awareness ruck march, but they have participated in the Bataan Death March in years past, which totals 26 miles. 

He said that participation in this march was voluntary, and the cadets were very excited to march and show their support. 

Marlon Waters, a junior and part of the Bulldog Battalion Color Guard, said that as someone who comes from a military family, it’s especially important to participate in something like this ruck march to raise awareness about soldier suicide. 

“That’s really thoughtful for the soldiers that are enlisted or commissioned,” Waters said. 

 He was glad that the Chaparros had brought this to the attention of Herrera and the JROTC cadets. 

“I feel like even though we’re just JROTC, it’s really good for us as well,” Waters said.

Stop Soldier Suicide offers “consistent, confidential, trauma-informed care for service members and veterans at highest risk for suicide through its one-of-a-kind suicide intervention model, innovative use of data insights, and a technology-first approach,” at no cost to clients regardless of how long they served or their discharge status. More information on Stop Soldier Suicide can be found at StopSoldierSuicide.org.

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