Ernesto Rodriguez is walking 2,200 miles from Tennessee to Los Angeles. The purpose, to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who take theirs lives everyday, a statistic reported by the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs in 2012, and for those suffering with PTSD.
Rodriguez says he was tired of seeing posts on social media about veterans committing suicide and that was part of what motivated to take a proactive approach to raising awareness.
Rodriguez served in the Army for 15 years, in that time he went on four combat tours, two in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. After retiring he says the transition into civilian life was made easier thanks to the military community around him but even then he still went through a dark period. Rodriguez tried taking his own life twice.
“I sat back and I realized I was kind of given a second chance”, says Rodriguez.
The long journey serves as therapy for him while also creating a platform for those who he says need to be heard. Rodriguez averages 15 to 20 miles a day, some days are easier than others but the walk has given him a task and a purpose, something he says many veterans lose when retiring.
“They’re work driven, they have a mission, they know what they’re doing and all of a sudden they’re out as civilians and they’re expected to know what to do and a lot of people lose their way”, Rodriguez says.
When he completes his journey he says he hopes his message is heard and something is done to prevent suicide among veterans.
Rodriguez isn’t raising money or accepting any type of monetary donations but he won’t turn down a place to stay or something to eat. After El Paso, his next stop is Las Cruces.