first published on May 14, 2017 by Sean
Helping prevent veteran suicide with humor and short shorts. Silkies Hike in San Diego brings vets together, saves lives, and shows some skin…
The May grey faded early over San Diego, giving way to sunshine for hundreds of scantily clad veterans and supporters. They came together because of one of the most concerning issues facing the US military and veteran community… the surge of Mental health issues stemming from years of combat deployments, largely Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, and a national veteran suicide average of 22 per day.
The “Irreverent Warriors” is one charity specifically targeting these issues and is building a support network for veterans through organized events such as the “Silkies Hikes.” Using the idea of humor and camaraderie as a weapon against depression and suicide, it started as a singular event in 2015 by former Marine Capt. Danny Maher aka Donny O’Malley and Sgt. Ryan Loya. The march gained popularity and quickly spread to over 40 cities nationwide with a stated mission, to
“bring veterans together using humor and camaraderie to heal the mental wounds of war, through therapeutic events and entertainment, in order to reduce PTSD and prevent veteran suicide.”
The festivities began early alongside Mission Bay with games like beach volleyball, football, and rounds of half-naked (and mostly male) twister. A set of pull-up bars near a children’s playground unsurprisingly becomes a focal point for motivational cheers, and unrelenting trash talk. Several booths set up by local veterans charities and services hoping to reach a wider audience are also present. Given the large number of Marines in attendance, surprisingly there are no finger-painting stations.
At least 500 veterans from all branches trickled in throughout the morning, sporting the short and sensual silkies (or Ranger Panties if you prefer) and rucksacks weighted with 22 kilograms. The rucksack and weight, is in honor of the 22 vets who commit suicide every day. People were jovial and happy to socialize; the impromptu camaraderie was quick and palpable as spirits were high. However, the reason that brought people together never seemed too distant from anyone’s mind. Most notable during the pre-hike safety brief, when the crowd was asked to raise a hand if they personally knew a vet who committed suicide, nearly every hand in the crowd uniformly and instantly shot in the air, a saddening shared bond amongst the attendees.
The Silkies Hike stepped off in high spirits snaking along Mission Bay, a route of about 22 kilometers. A host of American flags adorn the lengthy column, while an abundance of pasty thighs and shirtless vets cheer and laugh. The warm and sunny weather on a Saturday meant the bayside parks along the route would have hundreds of surprised spectators. Many cheering and conveying their gratitude, as car horns blare from the passing traffic. The march would halt several times along the route, but unlike humps in the military, mid-hike beers were encouraged. Attitudes would remain high after the lunch break as the column began its return to the starting point. The column would finish strong. High-fives and hugs amongst the hikers, another shared adversity completed. Though the day’s exertion physically weighed on many, minds quickly shifted to the afterparty and celebration of the day’s events. A cantina on the beach would do nicely…
Alcohol tends to open people up, particularly within a demographic like veterans. Notorious for their inability to communicate emotions, speaking with many in the crowd, I was amazed at how many were willing to share their stories. Candidly and openly sharing painful experiences and memories of departed friends, admittedly they often keep these emotions hidden from their now civilian life. Now in the company of hundreds of veterans, they finally feel at ease to discuss such melancholy topics. A very common complaint about leaving military service is the loss of such closely bonded friendships. Events like this help bring veterans together, revive their sense of belonging, and create a community of mutual support. Thanks to non-profits like Irreverent Warriors, the veteran community is growing more connected and support for those most in need, is hopefully catching up.
If you missed this past Saturday’s Silkies Hike, and are interested in future hikes, Irreverent Warrior Silkies Hikes are scheduled throughout the US for the rest of 2017. Get your Silkies ready folks, they may be coming to a city near you.