In advance of football game, students make 347-mile march from Iowa City to Lincoln to raise awareness of veteran suicide

College student-athletes from Nebraska and Iowa will square off Friday on the football field. But in the week leading up to the game, student veterans from the two schools are showing that they are on the same team.

For the second consecutive year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Iowa student veteran organizations have joined together in a nine-day, 347-mile ruck march to bring attention to the problem of veteran suicide.

Reversing the route from last year, when the game was in Iowa City, the march this year started at U of I’s Kinnick Stadium and ends at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

“We feel like this is a good way,” said Gabriel teNyenhuis, 27, a former Marine who is treasurer of the UNL Student Veterans Organization. “We’ll be marching along the roads. When people approach us, we can tell them about our cause.”

Studies show that about 20 veterans a day commit suicide — despite aggressive efforts by the military and Department of Veterans Affairs to connect troubled veterans with help.

The veterans are marching about 20 miles each morning and each afternoon while carrying backpacks, or “rucksacks,” loaded with 20 pounds of personal belongings, many of them relating to their own military careers. They are calling the event, “The Things They Carry Iowa-Nebraska Ruck March,” a nod to a book about soldiers in the Vietnam War.

The veterans are also carrying a ceremonial game ball, which will arrive at the stadium just before the Heroes Game on Friday.

The Iowa veterans started the march Wednesday in Iowa City and continued in shifts through Sunday. They then handed off to the Nebraska veterans at Freedom Rock near Menlo, Iowa. On Monday, they walked from Adair to Hancock, and today plan to walk from Hancock to Council Bluffs.

Wednesday’s march starts at 7 a.m. at 1100 North Shore Drive in Council Bluffs and continues through South Omaha, Bellevue and Papillion, winding up at Ashland. On Thursday, the marchers will walk from Ashland to Lincoln, via Eagle.

Volunteers are welcome to join the march or just come out to cheer them on, teNyenhuis said. To learn more about the march, visit thingstheycarry.com.

Donations may also be made on the site through PayPal, with the money being used to rent an RV to follow the marchers and provide them with water and snacks. Leftover funds will go to veterans charities, teNyenhuis said.

He’s hoping more student veteran organizations will try something similar in the future.

“I’d like to see more universities do this,” he said. “My goal is to spread this across the Big Ten.”

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