Annual ruck to help homeless veterans in region

Annual ruck to help homeless veterans in region
Submitted

Ridgewood and Newcomerstown Schools had a guest speaker talk to the school about what Veterans Day really stands for at last year’s ruck.

                        

Thee fourth annual Operation Veterans Helping Veterans Ruck will be held on Nov. 7, starting at 9 a.m.

“Every year, we alternate the starting point between Ridgewood High School and Newcomerstown High School,” said Brian Hawkins, director of Operation Veterans Helping Veterans. “This year’s event will start at Newcomerstown High School and will end at Ridgewood. The approximate distance is 8.8 miles.”

But what exactly is a ruck?

“‘Rucking’ is the military term for hiking under load,” Hawkins said. “As you can imagine, this is a huge issue for the military, as soldiers must wear body armor and carry weapons, ammo, water, communications equipment and other gear as they conduct patrols and missions.

“Basically, during the hike, if you wish to carry a ruck then you are more than welcome, however, it is not a requirement.”

The idea for the event started small and has grown over the years.

“The overall idea started on Nov. 11, 2015, with co-founder Chad Elliott, along with five others deciding to strap on a ruck and hike from the West Lafayette area to the American Legion in Newcomerstown,” said Hawkins. “The reason for the hike was basically to do something special to honor veterans and help bring more awareness during Veterans’ Day.”

Hawkins said a somewhat larger group decided to do the ruck again on Nov. 11, 2016. “During the hike, we noticed people began to cheer us on during the route.”

From that the seeds of the organization were planted. Founders Elliot, Hawkins and Phil Valdez decided to continue to have the ruck hike every year, but start doing it for a cause.

Hawkins said the first official Operation Veterans Helping Veterans Ruck hike was in November 2017. The main goal of the event, beyond raising awareness for veterans, was also to collect items and monetary donations for homeless veterans.

“The overall event was a huge success,” he said. “We were not only able to accomplish our overall goal, we were also fortunate to be able to include both Ridgewood and Newcomerstown Schools in the event, as we had a guest speaker talk to the school about what Veterans Day really stands for.”

The group became a registered non-profit in 2018.

“OVHV was founded so that local veterans could assist other local veterans that are in need,” Hawkins said. “OVHV endeavors to provide financial assistance and/or access to resources for local veterans who have fallen on difficult times. OVHV also strives to enrich the lives of our community members and the veterans therein, and their families by offering other forms of assistance.”

He said in the past some of the things the funds have been used to provide Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas shopping, financial assistance with rent, bills and other needed expenses, as well as assisting families during the 2019 flooding in the West Lafayette, awarding a Ridgewood and Newcomerstown High School military-based student with the OVHV Scholarship and the purchase of firewood for a veteran family.

Hawkins said the number of people taking part has changed a lot over the years.

“We started out with five and last year we had close to 80. Sometimes the weather plays a role in how many people attend. This will be the first year we are doing it on a Saturday, so we are hoping for a large turnout. In the past, we have conducted the ruck during snow flurries and even pouring down rain.”

There is still time to register to take part in the event. “Registration is open all the way up to the time we step off on Nov. 7 at 0900 hours.”

For those who want to help with the event, but don’t want to walk, there are still ways to contribute.

“There are a few different ways people can help support our mission,” said Hawkins. “This year we came up with the idea to have ‘In Memory Of’ and ‘In Honor Of’ displayed on the back of this year’s T-shirts. Someone can sponsor a service member to have their name displayed on the back of the shirts. People attending the Ruck can provide a donation and they will receive a T-shirt. For those who can not make the event and would like a shirt or a hoodie, we are also selling those. Lastly, if a business would like to support our mission, we are having a sign made to display at the registration to recognize those businesses.”

The ruck is one of two fundraisers the organization holds each year, the other being a golf scramble. This year, the scramble was held in August due to COVID rescheduling.

COVID safety precautions will be used at the ruck. “Talking with the schools, we decided to move the ruck to a Saturday, to ensure we take the kids safety into consideration,” said Hawkins. “We will also ensure we are practicing the CDC guidelines during the registration and during the ruck to the best of our ability.”

Hawkins said the group encourages the Veterans Service Office to reach out if they have a veteran or veteran’s family who needs assistance.

More information about the ruck can be found on the group’s Facebook page, Operation Veterans Helping Veterans. There is also an order form for T-shirts on the site as well.


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