|New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services Secretary Timothy Hale presenting a state Flag to Brendan O'Toole in front of the Eternal Flame Monument at the Bataan Memorial Building in Santa Fe.|
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Marine Sgt. on Cross-Country Run Stops in New Mexico
“The Run for Veterans” 3,600 Mile Journey Aimed at
Calling Attention to/Raising Money for Post-Combat Veterans’ Issues
A Marine Sergeant on a cross-country run to help call attention to veterans’ issues has stopped in New Mexico for a few days—catching his breath and visiting with New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services Secretary Timothy Hale before heading back on the road.
24-year old Brendan O’Toole—a native of Alexandria, Virginia—began The Run for Veterans last Veterans’ Day from Oceanside, California (near Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego) on a 3,600-mile journey to Portland, Maine. His goal is to finish sometime near the end of the year and to raise $2 million for to help Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans.
O’Toole served two tours with the Marines; first in Haiti and Somalia, and then Afghanistan—finishing his second tour last spring. It was here during “down time” while watching the movie Forrest Gump--the Oscar-winning movie starring Tom Hanks about a Marine who ran across the country after serving in Vietnam--that the seed was planted to one day do the same.
When O’Toole returned home to Virginia, he began noticing that a lot of friends who also served in Afghanistan and Iraq were having a hard time re-adjusting to “normal” civilian life.
“For whatever reason, a lot of my friends were not handling their new lives very well,” explained O’Toole when meeting with NMDVS Secretary Hale to explain his mission. ”They were abusing alcohol or drugs, tuning people out—just having a lot of personal issues going on.”
O’Toole had also decided to take up running to “de-compress” after his latest tour in Afghanistan. When one of his ex-combat friends who had been having a particularly difficult time readjusting to life back home committed suicide, O’Toole recalled a promise he made to that friend: Running across the country “like what Forrest Gump did.”
O’ Toole found his new post-military mission: A cross-country run--not only to see the sights—but with a purpose: Calling attention to the need to help our newest generation of veterans cope with life after service
He created a website to solicit pledges—with all money after gas, food and lodging expenses are deducted going to three agencies which provide physical, mental and social support for soldiers and veterans: Give an Hour; Team Red, White & Blue; and the USO.
“The respect for military service and veterans is amazing here in New Mexico,” said O’Toole. "Only three weeks into this, I think I have noticed that the farther you get our from the cities, the more in-tune people are with military members. It almost seems like outside of the cities is the heart of America."
For more information about The Run for Veterans and to pledge a donation, go to http://www.therunforveterans.org