The last two decades have been witness to a difficult period in the United States, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continued with varying levels of intensity. While there was a resurgence of admiration and support from the public towards the service member and the veteran communities, the harsh reality of service often remained murky at best. Most people have experienced death, in so far as losing an elder family member or finding out someone we knew had passed, therefore conceptualizing the concept of death is by no means a stretch of our imaginations. We can see a death toll and understand in at least a vague way what their families must be going through, but when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it, lights out, roll credits; regardless of your personal beliefs about your post being alive career, the meat sack which was you no longer has to deal with anything.
The other side of conflict injury is more nebulous. Wounds left in places a medic can’t bandage can be just as deadly as a bullet or a femoral bleed. Yet, these take time to insidiously rot the person carrying it from within.
Mental health has been finally pushed into the light after generations of being downplayed, belittled, and ignored, but it sadly came that way kicking and screaming. We often hear ’22 a day’ as a shorthand for the number of veterans per day who commit suicide, but that number doesn’t really paint the whole picture, nor does it address the root of the problem rather than identifying it. For that, we have Americans like Dalton Mack.
Mack is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps Infantry. After coming home, he experienced what a lot of veterans and service members do; the lack of resources, knowledge, and compassion to treat the psychological injuries that they bring back from deployment with them. Seeing friends struggle, some of them ultimately losing their battles, stirred a need in Mack to do something to bring focus back to the issue of suicide and maybe prevent a few. Statistically, the second highest cause of death in veterans under 45 is suicide, which is both alarming but not entirely shocking.
What did the intrepid Marine decide to do? Take a hike. Leaving Oceanside, California on 23 April, Mack began his long march to the opposite coastline on foot. In front, he pushes a stroller which carries food, water, a sleeping bag, and tent, and emblazoned on the side with a banner which reads “Coast to Coast for Men’s Mental Health.”
Along with social media links to follow his journey. Traveling an average of 20 miles a day, Mack has already worn through several strollers, but the journey isn’t about the kit.
As he moves across the country and gains more attention for the cause, Mack has been amazed to see just how many people are along with him, opening the Entry Control Point of their minds to allow access. All manner of people have been sharing their stories and experiences with him, and with each other. In an interview with news station KNWA, Mack said “Walking across the U.S., I just kind of want to bring more attention to the issues of men as a whole as far as getting more men to reach out, and reaching out isn’t the end of the world. I would much rather someone call me at 2 a.m. than find out the next day that they had done something to harm themselves.”
Mack’s route plan puts him on course to reach Jacksonville, North Carolina, the site of Marine Corps Base Camp LeJeune, but plans beyond that are in the air. Whatever he decides is the next step, his goal is to continue fighting for hope and healing. “I want men to realize that you don’t have to carry the world on your shoulders. You should be able to reach out to somebody, and if you can’t, you can find me on social media and reach out to me.”