“Their pictures on our backs – Their names in our hearts”
What’s in a number? In February 2013, the VA released a report that the number of veteran suicides per day was 22, an increase from the previously recorded 18 per day. A startling and shocking number. 154 per week, 660 per month, over 8,000 per year, far exceeding those killed in action.
The cause for awareness, prevention, and remembrance became a rallying cry around the number ’22.’ The number was never exact – it was based on a several states reporting veteran suicides then making a calculated assumption about the remaining states, based on their veteran population. In 2017, a more precise VA study shared the per day number was actually 20, based on reports through 2014. This number is based on data collected when agencies report a veteran status.
Many believe the number is still not only above 20, but even above 22. Reports don’t factor in drug overdoses, accidents that may not have been accidental, or the tragedy of ‘suicide by cop.’ In the latest studies, the VA states the number is too difficult to accurately pinpoint.
Active duty suicide is on the rise, as is suicide among women in the military. Sometimes the suicide rates are tied to the hidden wounds of war: post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), or MST (military sexual trauma). But not everyone who has completed suicide has been to war – often the military culture discourages those with mental health issues from reaching out for necessary help. The reasons for suicide are complex and varied.
The most crucial issue is not ‘what is the exact number?’ but ‘what are we going to do about it?’
Why do we use the number 22? It has become a symbol. A symbol that the number, no matter what it is, remains too high. The issue isn’t awareness – more than that is needed. Suicide prevention, the provision of helpful resources, and crisis intervention should be our country’s priorities. Not only for the military member or veteran, but for their hurting families as well.
Those who have lost their inner battle must not be forgotten and swept aside, as if their service and sacrifice do not count. They are not a number to us. They are not a statistic. They are men and women, young and old, who served our country. View their pictures, read their stories, say their names – remember them and their loved ones left behind. 22 Too Many – our heroes are never forgotten.
– Keri Jacobs, Cofounder
How We Got Started
Dayna and I became friends through our marathon training program. Running for 4-5 hours together every Saturday morning leads to laughter, sharing, and deep friendships. As our fall marathons approached, Dayna, a veteran of the US Navy, was running in memory of a fallen Marine she knew, killed in action. I very much admired what she was doing.
A few months earlier, my son had deployed to Afghanistan, and I had met Susan, a mom whose son, Andy, was suffering from post-traumatic stress due to his multiple deployments. We were both part of an online support group for parents whose sons or daughters were deployed.
By the time I noted Dayna carrying her friend, I also found out Andy, Susan’s son, had lost his battle and died of an overdose from all the medications he had been prescribed. Shocked and saddened for Susan, I asked her permission to carry Andy in my marathon.
Winter of 2012, news stories starting featuring more the tragedy of veteran suicide. Reading story after story, Dayna and I connected with two mothers who had lost their sons back home after they had ‘safely’ returned from combat.
For our next marathon, five of us carried three soldiers – their pictures on our backs, we read and shared their stories. At the completion of the race, we mailed our finisher medals to their mothers. Our first group effort.
I remember watching an online memorial video one evening. I saw a picture of Marine Sgt Chip Wicks, who died by suicide shortly after returning from his service in the initial invasion of Iraq. His father wrote, “No one cares about these dead heroes – they are forgotten, swept aside.” That remark shook me up so much I stopped the video. I determined I would never ever NOT run in memory of our fallen lost to PTS, suicide – the hidden wounds of war.
By the time our spring race approached, we had 11 runners scheduled to run in memory of 11 soldiers and Marines. I remember saying, “11 + 11 is 22; 22 too many.” The name stuck. The per day rate had just been raised to 22. We formed a Facebook page so that we could share our race pictures with the families.
Over time and word of mouth, our effort grew. From 3 soldiers, to 11 soldiers and Marines, we have now been given permission to share the pictures and stories of over 325 from all branches: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. We also have a British soldier who lost his battle with PTS from many of the same reasons our own do – adjusting to civilian life after war while not receiving proper care.
As we honor their memory, not simply in marathons anymore, but in races, walks, hikes, rucks, biking, and other events, their stories will be shared – not their last moments here on earth, but the story of who they are and how they served. We will seek to keep their memory alive and provide some encouragement to their loved ones who miss them so much. – Keri Jacobs, Cofounder
Years of work
60+ is the number of states plus countries where our fallen heroes have been honored. From 5k’s, half marathons, marathons and even 100 mile races, to marathons in the UK, France, Bermuda, and Canada, to a Marine Corps PT workout in Japan, to a 5k in Landstuhl, Germany, from motorcycle events from DC to Ohio to Idaho – our heroes are never forgotten.
Meet The Team