|Leesburg natives Adam Shatarsky and Ross Delafield are walking from New York to Washington to raise funds for wounded warriors. Courtesy Photo|
An alpha male is assertive. He’s dominant. He’s often found within leadership positions, and frequently ranked in the military. He’s expected to not have feelings and to deal with personal issues privately.
He’s not expected to suffer; but he does – and in silence.
“The Marine Corps infantry; it’s a dog eat dog world and if you have a problem, you deal with it,” said Adam Shatarsky. Shatarsky is a veteran U.S. Marine Corps corporal and Leesburg native. He is co-founder, with fellow Marine veteran Ross Delafield and civilian Rusty Foster, of Leesburg-based nonprofit, The Wounded Walk.
Loudoun County High School graduates Shatarsky and Delafield kicked off a walk last week to raise funds and awareness of wounded veterans who suffer either physically and mentally. They left from Columbus Circle in Manhattan and are walking to Washington, D.C. The journey will take them about a month.
Last year the number of suicide deaths within the U.S. military hit a record high and exceeded the number of those who died in combat in Afghanistan. An average of 18-22 veterans commit suicide daily – totaling 8,000 per year, according to the 2012 Suicide Data Report released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The data is the most recent available.
The taboo of mental health issues within the military had to be addressed. And Shatarsky and Delafield are the ones doing it.
Shatarsky lost a friend to suicide during his four years serving with the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines Weapons Co. in Camp Pendleton, Calif. The Marine didn’t turn up to meet his battalion in formation and was later discovered to have taken his own life in his barracks room that morning.
“There was no indication, there weren’t signs that I knew of personally,” Shatarsky said. “I’m lucky I have Ross. He is my close friend. If I’m going through something, whether it’s personal or anything at all, I can talk to him. That’s what we want to create; a family and a community that even veterans we don’t know us can come to us and share their story.”
It was in 2011 when he was conducting recovery missions after the tsunami and earthquake in Japan that the idea for The Wounded Walk came to Shatarsky. He called up his friend and fellow Marine veteran Chris Senopole and together they came up with the idea to raise awareness for the wounded warriors who were struggling in silence.
The goal was to trek almost 3,000 miles from Camp Pendleton to the 8th and I Marine Corps Barracks in Washington, D.C. Despite fatigue, dehydration and heat that caused melted shoes and phones, the months-long journey raised around $75,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. The guys also handed out direct donations with the money they raised, including a prosthetic leg to an Air Force wife who is now training for her life-long dream of running a 5k race.
Delafield didn’t participate in the first walk, but it wasn’t long before he joined the team.
“I actually quit my job the day they got back to D.C.,” Delafield said of the first walk. “I double parked on the road and I ran over to Adam and I basically gave him a one minute, ‘This is great, you’re awesome, I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years.’”
Delafield served with the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines at Camp Lejuene. He participated, among other things, as part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which was a NATO-led international peacekeeping force responsible for establishing a secure environment in Kosovo.
“A lot of these guys, they’re always getting high fives in the military, a pat on the back and a sense of accomplishment,” Delafield said. “You’re always doing things that you can feel really good about when you’re doing them. You have this sense of pride. When guys get out, they don’t have that anymore.”
“I was hard on myself most, and that’s how the first walk came about. I want to do something that means something again,” he said. “The goal is to empower someone who is struggling and let them know that they’re not alone. We support you. Take this and get a jump-start to getting back on your feet.”