Carrying the weight of veteran suicide: Border-to-border walk is to honor and remember
ULEN, Minn. — The sky was overcast as two SUVs pulled up the the cemetery just north of here. Four men dressed in matching grey T-shirts get out of the vehicles and walk carefully and silently past rows of tombstones. A nearby wind chime plays a melody as the men stop at a grave at the edge of the cemetery.
The grave, decorated in red geraniums, belongs to Brady Oberg, a soldier the men never met but who inspired them to take on a Memorial Day challenge like no other.
Starting Thursday, the four men — Ryan Daniel, John Dalziel, Trent Dawson and Jeremy Donais — have been walking 240 miles from near the Canadian border to near the North Dakota/South Dakota border in honor of veterans who have died from suicide.
During "Brady's Border 2 Border Ruck March", each man will take turns walking 10 miles while carrying a 20-pound weight on his back to represent the 20 veterans who die every day in America from suicide.
"It's a cause bigger than us," Dawson said. "We knew it was what we needed to do."
Brady Oberg grew up in Ulen and joined the army in 2009. He deployed to Afghanistan serving in the front lines during Operation Enduring Freedom. Following a year overseas, he returned to the United States, got married and finished his college degree.
Despite outward appearances, his family said the challenges Brady had assimilating to his new life after combat proved to be more than he could bear. He took his own life Aug. 6, 2015.
Oberg's family said they were inspired to start a foundation in Brady's honor because he had stated not long before he died that he wanted to make a difference in someone's life.
The Brady Oberg Legacy Foundation raises awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), creates connections between veterans through retreats and provide scholarships to veterans pursuing careers in mental health counseling.
The first steps
The inspiration for the walk started over a cup of coffee among Dalziel, Dawson, Donais and Daniel. Dalziel — a Marine Corp veteran who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon — lost a good friend to suicide last year and said he understands firsthand the struggles veterans ensure once they come home.
"John's been there and done that," Dawson said. "When he told me that 20 veterans die every day from suicide, I couldn't believe it. I had no idea. I said 'what do you need? - Let's do it.' "
The men are used to working out together. Every Sunday they do the Crossfit Fargo Hero Workout of the Day (WOD) where gym-goers honor individual heroes including soldiers, police officers and firefighters.
But for Memorial Day weekend, the men decided to walk, day and night with weight on their backs, to remember the fallen soldiers who didn't die from war, but from its aftereffects. Dalziel said as a culture, we need to be more proactive to prevent suicides among veterans. They hope the walk this weekend might make a difference.
"It's about getting that one person, that one veteran to pick up the phone to say 'I can't deal with it anymore'," Dalziel said. "It's great that we've raised about $6,000 for the foundation, but the crux of it is to just get that one vet to pick up the phone."
The four men decided the best way to kickoff the weekend walk was to stop at Brady's grave in Ulen. They bowed their heads as they read the names of veterans from Oberg's division who died from suicide.
"The 10th Mountain Division had, what about 143 people in it?," Dalziel said. "They didn't lose anyone over there, but since coming home, 14 or 15 have died by suicide. That number is just too high. Something needs to happen."
After reading the names, the men each placed a quarter on top of Brady's grave.
"It's from Roman times," Dalziel said. "It's so the soldier can start the tab on the other side."
Then it was off to Noyes, Minn., to start the walk.
Dalziel started the walk Thursday at midnight, followed by Dawson, Donais and Daniel. They hope to keep a "forced march" pace of about 14 miles an hour — so about two hours and 20 minutes per 10 miles walked. When each man is not walking, he'll try to rest.
The men said they will occasionally be joined by friends along the route, and they're happy to invite the public to walk a few miles with them as well. (See the exact route in the sidebar.)
They hope to reach the North Dakota/South Dakota border near Fairmont around noon Saturday. The foursome knows it could be a tiring weekend — not expecting to eat or sleep well, but they say it's not about that.
"Memorial Day isn't about burgers and hot dogs. It's about those who paid the ultimate price. We want to remember that," Dalziel said.
The men are considering making this an annual event. The ultimate goal might be that they won't need to.
"Please just pick up that phone," Dalziel said. "Just pick it. It's not a sign of weakness to ask for help. I've been there. Just ask for help. That is so important."
Their timeline and route
Thursday, 12 a.m., May 24 - Start at Noyes, Minn., go south via Highway 220 to Climax. At Climax, travel south on Highway 75 to Moorhead.
Friday, 5 p.m., May 25 - Public gathering at Centennial Baseball Fields, 2600 15th Ave. N., Moorhead. Leave Moorhead on Highway 75 to Breckenridge, cross over to Wahpeton, N.D., then south on Highway 127 to Fairmont.
Saturday, 5 p.m. May 26 - The walk ends at Fargo's Prairie Brothers Brewing, 4474 23rd Ave., S. People can commemorate the walk with free food and a social. The general public is invited.
For more information or to donate, go to CrossFit Fargo's site at crossfitfargo.com.