“Men and women still suffering from PTSD and brain injuries is a significant issue in our ranks,” said Todd Moulder, a 21-year Marine veteran who has served in Bosnia, Haiti and Iraq.
Thousands of soldiers have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, and an estimated 290,000 suffer from mental trauma they received on tour. Many have trouble moving back into society and some experience like homelessness or even suicide. Moulder says the men and women who fought for our freedom deserve better.
“We’re not saying there’s a problem as in the military is not treating these, but a gap has formed and unfortunately bullet holes and broken legs get taken care of, but the invisible wounds sometimes linger,” said Moulder.
About the Shepherd Center
The group is running to support the Shepherd Center, a private hospital on Peachtree Road in Atlanta that specializes in brain injuries. It mostly treats civilians but has been working with returned veterans for the last several years through a wounded veterans’ program.
That program is called the Share Military Initiative, which helps veterans with programs running from two weeks to 14 weeks. The program was founded by Bernie Marcus in 2008 and has treated 200-plus veterans in total.
Moulder said the programs are effective, but can be costly. That’s why his group is running — to raise awareness along with money for the program. They have gathered sponsors along the way, including chief sponsor Superior Plumbing.
The goal is to raise $100,000 for the Shepherd Center, enough to fund the Share program for one month.
“We’re well on our way,” Moulder said.
Eight of the men running are military members. The other is a civilian and, according to Moulder, a “true patriot.” That man is 40-year-old Travis Ellis, the owner of a local company called Mobilized Fuels.
“The Shepherd Center is the only privately-run facility providing this type of treatment in the country,” he said. “They can help 40 clients per year out of a population that is 300,000 diagnosed and an estimated 700,000 undiagnosed.”
Ellis estimates between 20 and 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD.
The idea to run to Washington was born from a previous fundraiser for the Shepherd Center.
“We didn’t want to arbitrarily ask folks for money,” Ellis said. “We thought we needed to endure something to pull all this together.”
Planning the trip
The group, which is called the “Shepherd’s Men,” will leave Atlanta on May 19 and trek about 700 miles in total, arriving the Marine Corps War Memorial on Memorial Day.
Leaving day is going to be an event in and of itself. Starting at 9 a.m., Moulder said there will be a sendoff at the Shepherd Center with balloons, food, a fun run and speakers.
The group has been training six days a week, two hours a day, since January. They don’t do much long-distance running but do a lot of endurance work, training themselves to push past the normal threshold when someone stops due to fatigue.
“Most people stop when they get sore,” Moulder said. “They can still run, it’s just uncomfortable. We’ve trained ourselves to be able to push through the pain.”
True to the order of the military, they plan to arrive at their destination at exactly 12 p.m. on May 25.
The soldiers won’t actually cover 100 miles each for seven days. Like any good military team, they are sharing the work to reach a common goal. Each man will run a half-marathon distance of 13 miles every day to make up the total distance.
Interstates and state highways are going to be avoided on the route.
“We’re going to take trails as much as we can,” said Moulder, 40. “We’re going to go the western route. We’ll take Charlotte to Lynchburg to Manassas.”
Along the way they’ll stop at American Legion units, Gold Star Families for Peace or anywhere else people will hear them speak.
Their slogan says it all: “Nine men, seven days, 700 miles.”
Effects of brain injuries
All of the men running have known people with post-traumatic stress disorder or other ailments owing to their time overseas.
Ellis has a friend who was a combat medic. After returning, he suffered from PTSD, suicide attempts and anger. That friend is now a client of the Share Initiative. Ellis said it saved his life.
“A significant amount of people don’t report their symptoms because they think there’s a bad connection with PTSD,” Moulder said. “Unfortunately, a lot of our brothers and sisters go down the wrong road. They’ve ashamed or nervous to get help. Whether they saw full combat or something traumatic, it induced enough chemical change to cause lasting problems.”
While post-traumatic stress disorder is relatively well known, traumatic brain injuries have been a focus of the military for less than 10 years, according to Moulder. It began when roadside bombs were a plague and they left concussive symptoms that in some cases have gone untreated.
The effectiveness of the Shepherd Center programs can be summed up in short order. No one going through the program has committed suicide, an act Ellis said 22 veterans nationwide commit every single day.
With the training regimen coming to a close and a run through the early-summer heat on the horizon, it’s only a matter of days before the “Shepherd’s Men” embark on their journey.
“I think we’re ready,” Ellis said.
To donate to the cause or to learn more, visit ShepherdsMen.com.
When: May 19 to May 25. Group of nine men will run 100 miles per day from Atlanta to Washington D.C. arriving at the Marine Veterans War Memorial on May 25.
Why: They are running to support the Share Military Initiative, a program for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. The goal is to raise $100,00.
• Major Todd Moulder Age: 40
Residence: Fulton Co.
First Military Enrollment: 1993
• 1st Sgt. Justin Ezell Age: 37
Family: Wife, Kelley; sons, Carson and Samuel
First Military Enrollment: 1995
• Gunnery Sgt. Jesse Hamm
Family: Wife,Nicole; daughter, Savanna; son, Jackson
First Military Enrollment: 1998
• Staff Sgt. Troy Campbell Age: 35
Family: Wife, Kristen; daughter, Lila
First Military Enrollment: 2000
• Sgt. Jason Greene
Family: Wife, Kristen; daughter, Lila
Residence: Cumming First Military Enrollment: 2006
• Sgt. Angelo Salvador Age: 29
Family: Wife, Nina; sons, Angelo and Axel Residence: Kennesaw
First Military Enrollment: 2007
• Cpl. Leo Briseno
First Military Enrollment: 2008
• Hospital Corpsman, 2nd Class Josh Mackey Age: 30
Family: Wife, Brandi; daughters, Emily and Elizabeth; son, Will
Residence: Acworth First Military Enrollment: 2005
• Travis Ellis Age: 40
Family: Wife, Tonya; sons, Dawson and Cosby; daughter, Grace
First Military Enrollment: N/A, civilian