2014: As the United States entered its 13th year of war, an increasing number of news outlets featured reoccurring stories of Veteran suicide, lending a negative outlook on the VA system. This, alongside friends and family being asked to deploy at an accelerated rate - continued to cause numbing consequences during the prolonged conflict. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia, the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center was saving lives and working to evoke a positive effect through innovative therapy and treatments for those men and women who had exhausted all hope. The outcomes at SHARE were nothing short of miraculous. The SHARE Military Initiative at The Shepherd Center was saving our heroes; inspiring a group of dedicated and committed Patriots to draw a line in the sand and commit themselves to something much bigger than themselves. These dutiful Americans, who would call themselves the Shepherd's Men, would commit themselves to advocating the mission of SHARE while raising funds to ensure the program's ability to set the standard as it relates to treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury for veterans of post 9/11 wars. In Atlanta, Georgia hope was flourishing.
- 22 Veterans were committing suicide daily.
- 1 out of every 5 men and women who deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq returned with a Traumatic Brain Injury.
- Families were being shattered and generations adversely affected through the absence of proper medical care; causing many to lose hope.
- Shepherd's Men mobilized and moved to action to chart a course to advocate, fund and grow a life saving program as they saw the miracles of SHARE firsthand.
- The Shepherd’s Men, a team of 10, went on a six day, 684 mile journey running from The Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA to The United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA - raising $135K for SHARE.
- The run grabbed the attention of the media outlets and compelled corporate partners, such as HD Supply and Verizon, to SHARE THE BURDEN.
- A movement was born.
2015: Shepherd’s Men increased their team member count to 14, including the addition of a graduate (“client”) of the SHARE Military Initiative. New member, Jarrad Turner, a retired U.S. Army medic and graduate of the SHARE Military Initiative, joined the team as they ran from the World Trade Center site in New York to Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Their goal was $250k and they raised $280k, all while wearing 22 lb. flak vests (representing the 22 veteran suicides each day).
2016: Shepherd’s Men, joined by new member, U.S. Army veteran and SHARE Graduate James Peterson, ran from Boston to Shepherd Center. Each of the members ran 22 kilometers per day also wearing 22 lb. flak vests and raised just shy of $1 million.
2017: On May 22, 2017, Shepherd’s Men will begin their 4th annual campaign through eight cities, beginning at the Flight 93 Memorial site in Shanksville, PA. To pay tribute to the heroes who gave their lives on that flight, each of the members will wear 71-pound packs over their vests for a total of 93 pounds the first leg of the run. Each city thereafter, two team members will rotate carrying that honor until they arrive home to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia on May 29. The overall goal for 2017 is to raise $2.2 million, of which, 100% of the proceeds will support the SHARE Military Initiative at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center by December 31.
SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia is a comprehensive rehabilitation program that focuses on assessment and treatment for service men and women who have sustained a mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, along with co-occurring Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health concerns (such as depression or anxiety), from service in post-9/11 conflicts.
SHARE provides the resources and tools to eliminate or reduce the symptoms of these injuries and successfully return our veterans to their homes, families, and communities. SHARE offers a broad continuum of care, specifically tailored to meet the needs of each veteran, including housing, physical, occupational, vocational and speech therapies, life coaching, therapeutic recreation and legal, financial and psychological counseling. The Initiative also provides medical care, pain management and other specialized services.
The SHARE program typically serves clients through an 8-to-12-week program with 12-to-24-months of Community Transition Follow-up. All activities are housed in one centralized location, with complimentary on-site housing available, and conducted by the same medical and rehabilitation team, so that all aspects of a client’s care work collaboratively, as opposed to the fragmented systems clients have often experienced elsewhere. Graduates are assigned case managers who work with them in their home communities and follow their progress post-discharge to ensure they are meeting their goals and have the resources they need to continue their work to recovery.
The organization’s primary fundraiser for SHARE is an annual campaign during which the Shepherd’s Men team completes a daily 22km run - about the equivalent of a half-marathon (13.7 miles) – to represent the 22 deaths by suicide of U.S. veterans every day. Each member completes the multi-city journey wearing a flak vest with armored plates, weighing 22 pounds to symbolically SHARE the Burden with those who may be lost, weary and longing for HOPE. All legs of the run are open invitation for members of the corresponding community to walk, run and cheer alongside the team. Shepherd’s Men members will meet with veteran’s groups, VFWs, police, firemen and other local organizations to honor those who have fought for our freedom and bring attention to the combat veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who need treatment.
The SHARE Military Initiative is a primarily donor-funded program at Shepherd Center and clients receive these services at no charge to them or their families. SHARE’s current annual fundraising need is $1,150,000; in 2017, the Shepherd’s Men team aims to exceed that requisite with a goal of $2.2 million before December 31, 2017.
Lesley Lynn, FiancÉE of David Ricker
“We lost David on February 20, 2015. In the hours, days and weeks that followed, I pled with God to bring him back. I wished there was something that I could have done to change the outcome. I saw the visible scars of war however; I did not realize the depth of the invisible scars. David deserved to return home and live a life free of pain and suffering. We deserved an opportunity to build our lives together. I did not just loose him that day; I lost all the days we were supposed to have together. I still miss him so much it hurts.
After we lost David, I learned about The SHARE Military Initiative. This program provides the resources and tools to eliminate or reduce the symptoms of injuries such as PTSD and TBI and successfully returns veterans to their homes, families, and communities. I wish we were aware of this life saving initiative. If there were more services available like this, maybe David would still with us today.”
Jason Gallagher, Brother of Spc. Matt Gallagher
“Spc. Matthew A. Gallagher enlisted in the United States Army in November of 2011. After completing basic training and Airborne School, Matt was assigned to the 82nd Airborne, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Alpha Company, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. In 2012, Matt and his team deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Just days into their deployment, Matt and his platoon were targeted by a Taliban ambush, and continued heavy engagement with the enemy throughout their nearly year long deployment. The constant firefights, ambushes, rocket attacks and near misses with IEDs while living in a combat outpost took a toll on the men of Alpha Company. Throughout the horror, Matt always tried to make sure his team was taken care of, whether it was stepping out from cover to return fire so his men could make it to safety, or him donning combat a combat diaper, M4 and night vision after an intense mission to make his team laugh.
When Matt arrived stateside, he was treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a hip injury he received during his deployment. Although the doctors were able to fix Matt’s hip, the horrors of war left wounds that could not be seen on an x-ray. Like so many of the brave men and women that served our country post 9-11, Matt buried all of the horrific things he had seen during war and suffered in silence. In 2014, Matt was medically discharged from the Army, addicted to the powerful narcotic OxyContin, and forced to readjust to civilian life, without the support and help he truly needed. Matt sought treatment with the Veteran’s Administration, but like so many of the veterans that came before him, his treatment consisted of superficial evaluations and filling prescriptions. As Matt continued to struggle with civilian life, his problems with drugs and alcohol intensified. With the urging of his family and friends, Matt finally got serious about dealing with his PTSD, and sought mental health treatment at the VA. Unfortunately, Matt’s help did not come in time. On June 9, 2015, Matt was found in his St. Louis apartment, dead from a lethal combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. Matt is more than a statistic; he is tragic proof that our system is broken and unable to help the heroes that need its services the most.”
James Peterson, SHARE Graduate & Member of Shepherd’s Men
“I was deployed to Iraq from 2004-2005. Where I fought alongside my brothers in arms in countless firefights, while be exposed to many IED (roadside bombs), rocket and mortar attacks.
After I got out of the Army I moved back to central Minnesota to attend college. I met my wife while in college and we got married in 2007. We have 3 sons, 2 dogs and a cat, and we now live in southern Alabama. It seems all should be well, but without the SHARE Military Iinitiative at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia I would not be where I am today and more than likely I would be dead and be another statistic of 22 Veterans commit suicide every day. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury and before I entered the SHARE program in February 2015 I was in so much physical and emotional pain that I was ready to end that pain no matter what it meant. That means that my wife would be a widow and my boys would grow up without a father. But luckily, we found the SHARE program, which completely changed my life and my life with family.
I met the Shepherd’s Men at my graduation in May of 2015, I was blown away by their commitment to Veterans and the SHARE program, and that they run across the United States to bring awareness to the thousands and thousands of Veterans like myself. I was asked if I wanted to run in the 2016 Shepherd’s Men journey and I said yes, hoping they would forget they asked me. They did not and I ran from Boston to Atlanta. The Shepherd's Men brings me great joy. This year I will run from Shanksville, PA to Atlanta, GA to raise awareness Veterans Suicide and to raise money for the SHARE program, which I know is a lifesaving program for Veterans.”
Kateri Peterson, Wife of James Peterson
“My husband didn’t want to live anymore. And sometimes, I hardly blamed him. This was no way to live. And I couldn’t find relief for him, I couldn’t give it to him, I couldn’t make it for him. The most heart wrenching part of that is not the fact that we have 3 young sons watching EVERY move their beloved father makes, the pain he deals with daily, the isolation, the sadness, the confusion – rather that - our story is not an oddity, our struggle is not new. I need my husband. My children need their father. We were on the verge of losing him.
I somehow ran across Shepherd's Men and immediately felt that lump in the throat; standing with my jaw agape in amazement at the SHARE program. Do you know what that meant to me? That meant that my marriage might have a shot, that my partner, my helpmate, my husband, my best friend, might have a shot at some semblance of LIVING again. That my children have a shot at a father who is not just going to end this battle on his own volition, but take a shot wholeheartedly at living.
You are making a difference with every foot put in front of the other. Not only are you affording a life together, skills to overcome and adapt, but you are securing the future of America. As my little men grow, and when they are released into the world, each one of them will know that they have a duty and responsibility to care for the state of this nation, the welfare of its people, and will have learned (as they are learning even now) that you must do what you can do, no matter how small.”
How much of those dollars have directly benefitted the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center?
Every dollar we raise goes directly to saving lives through the SHARE Military Initiative at Shepherd Center. We are proud of our commitment to forgo utilizing raised funds for our personal expenses. This decision was made during the Shepherd’s Men inaugural run in 2014. We as a team forwent hotel rooms if they were not sponsored and instead, slept on the floor of fire stations, outside under the stars or personally funded room.
Why has Shepherd’s Men chosen running and rucking as their way to raise funds and awareness?
The physical challenge of our run is nothing compared to the challenges our veterans faced in conflict. We want to showcase how capable and resilient the mind, body, and spirit can be even in extreme circumstances – for us, this means running 22km a day with 22 lbs. of gear throughout 8 cities; allowing us to get out and meet fellow veterans and patriot Americans along the way. We train six days a week prior to our annual journey with various outlets including hiking, swimming, weight lifting and high intensity training.
What is significant about the number 22?
Each day 20-22 veterans commit suicide upon their return from combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, where many were exposed to conditions contributing to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). To symbolically represent this abhorrent statistic, the Shepherd’s Men team wears 22 lbs. of ballistic weight throughout their annual run.
Why is the Shepherd’s Men mission important?
Since it started in 2008, SHARE has treated more than 300 military service members with mild TBI and PTSD. The program has experienced significant success in reintegrating service members into their communities, workplaces and homes. Program services are provided at no cost to the service members who are admitted to the program. It takes $40,000 per veteran to complete the 8-to-12-week program that is primarily donor funded, as clients receive services at no charge to them or their families. Our 2017 goal is to raise $2.2 million and awareness as many heroes are unaware of the resources available to help him or her.
"2 years ago, a gentleman saw the news coverage while at home and drove himself to Shepherd the next day and walked to the main security desk and said, 'I saw these guys running on TV for a military treatment program. I need help.' He was admitted and at his graduation, he looked at me with tears streaming from his face and said, 'Thank you, you saved my life.'" – Travis Ellis
Can I run with the Shepherd’s Men?
Absolutely! We want anyone and everyone to spend time with the Shepherd's Men team. Bring your family and friends to run or walk one mile, two miles, or the entire 22k - whatever you wish! You can find details on the Shepherd's Men routes in each city on our website or on Facebook and Twitter. We also have various events in each city we visit that are often are open for everyone to join.
How can I donate to Shepherd's Men and the SHARE Military Initiative?
You can donate by visiting our direct donation portal.
Where can I learn more about the SHARE Military Initiative?
How do I get a veteran into the SHARE program?
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation and is a 152-bed facility. Last year, Shepherd Center had 965 admissions to its inpatient programs and 571 to its day patient programs. In addition, Shepherd Center sees more than 6,600 people annually on an outpatient basis.
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