A 6,000-mile First Step to Saving Veterans from Suicide

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is widely quoted as saying.

Foundation executives Summer Watson and Shelia Kirkbride pose outside American Legion Post 1 in Denver, Colorado, with two members of the post.

Warrior Research Foundation executives Summer Watson, far left, and Shelia Kirkbride, far right, visited American Legion Post 1 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo courtesy of Warrior Research Foundation.)

What if your first step is a 6,000-mile cross-country round trip to meet with military, veterans, and their families to put faces on the suicide epidemic?

That’s the philosophy behind the Drive for Life Veteran Suicide Awareness Campaign recently kicked off by Warrior Research Foundation executives Shelia Kirkbride and Summer Watson. The duo drove from their base outside the nation’s capital to San Francisco and back on a 10-day whirlwind tour of bases and veteran halls. Along the way, they met with those who wore the uniform and their families and talked about their needs and opportunities. (Full disclosure: the foundation is a client, though they are not paying me to write this column.)

Shelia and Summer returned on Monday energized to keep the drive alive.

“Just making those connections along the way was very uplifting,” Summer said.

Summer described the people they met on the road as “very embracing.” There will be follow-ups, not only with those met on the road, but with people who commented on the foundation’s Facebook posts from towns and cities along the way, and more local warriors and their families.

As reflected in its name, Warrior Research Foundation is a research organization. Its mission is to understand problems faced by our military and veterans through quantitative and qualitative analysis and find solutions to those problems. The Drive for Life campaign is an attempt to put a qualitative face on the numbers.

The numbers are staggering. One in two veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars say they know a fellow service member who attempted or committed suicide, a Washington Post-Kaiser Health poll found. In addition, a recent study published in the Psychiatric Services Journal indicates a small number of studies—limited to veterans who used services provided by the Veterans Health Administration—observed a 42 to 66 percent increase in the risk of suicide between 2000 and 2007, compared with the general U.S. population. This study also found that between the years of 2000 and 2010, the female veteran suicide rate increased 40 percent.

Help is certainly needed. Thankfully, there are those willing to take the journey.

Michael Pritchard faces camera with Shelia Kirkbride and Summer Watson opposite, as they sit around an outside table discussing veterans issues.

Warrior Research Foundation executives Shelia Kirkbride and Summer Watson met with stand-up comedian, keynote speaker, and youth motivator Michael Pritchard, who is lending his name and energy to the project. (Photo courtesy of Warrior Research Foundation.)

In San Francisco, Shelia and Summer met with stand-up comedian, keynote speaker, and youth motivator Michael Pritchard, who is lending his name and energy to the project. Photographer and documentary filmmaker Steve Gatlin filmed Michael’s discussion with Shelia and Summer, as well as other meetings the foundation executives had around the Bay Area. Look for a Drive for Life promotional video coming soon to a computer near you.

Shelia and Summer have completed the first step of the journey. A very big first step. They are committed to seeing the journey through.

“If anyone asks if we’d go across the country for our veterans, we can say we did,” Shelia told Summer on the final leg of the trip.

“We’ll go as far as we need to go to help our military, veterans, and their families,” Summer added.

Wednesday is Veterans Day. Celebrate it in part by familiarizing yourself with the Warrior Research Foundation’s focus on helping our veterans obtain the services they need. Then, take the next step and make a donation if you can. And, by all means, like the Warrior Research Foundation Facebook page.

To those who wore the uniform, we thank you for your service.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

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