22 Pushups Challenge calls attention to veterans’ suicides

From left, Tyler McDougall, Michael McLain, Michael Klim, Alexus O’Neal and SMSgt Eric Herriman are raising awareness about veteran’s suicide through The 22 Pushups Challenge. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

From left, Tyler McDougall, Michael McLain, Michael Klim, Alexus O’Neal and SMSgt Eric Herriman are raising awareness about veteran’s suicide through The 22 Pushups Challenge. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — The 22 Pushups Challenge is one that Senior Master Sgt. Eric Herriman and his Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps members at Dover High School take quite seriously.

They know that for each of the 22 pushups they make they are remembering one of 22 veterans who commit suicide on a daily basis in the United States, according to a case study that was done by the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2012.

“We’re trying to bring awareness to the number of veterans who commit suicide every day – 22,” said Tyler McDougall, a member of Dover High’s AFJROTC. “It’s an important number for everybody to know, so we try to do 22 pushups for 22 days.”

Many members of the Dover High AFJROTC take pride in posting videos on social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter of themselves doing the 22 Pushups Challenge – and they challenge other schools to do their own pushups in order to raise awareness of veteran suicides and ways they can be prevented.

“It’s extremely important – not just the suicide rate,” SMSgt Herriman said. “My father was a Vietnam veteran and I spoke with one of the VA representatives involved with this and over 50 percent of the suicides that are taking place right now are from the Vietnam veteran-era, and that’s my father’s rank.

“My dad’s since passed, not because of suicide, but if you think that guys in their 60s and 70s are still meeting their darkest hour of life … that’s a personal issue for me.”

Dover High School will host 10 schools and 12 teams on Saturday for the Raider Challenge, where around 140 JROTC participants will compete in various competitions throughout the day, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on the east side of the high school.

SMSgt Herriman said he plans on issuing the 22 Pushups Challenge to all of the other schools at around 2 p.m. on Dover High’s football field.

Larence Kirby, the Executive Director of Delaware’s Commission of Veterans Affairs, said he is encouraged by the stand that the pushup participants are making, especially the students.

“I believe it is a positive challenge in two regards,” he said. “It brings attention to the negative trend of veteran suicides and it promotes health/fitness. I’ve participated in multiple challenges and briefings on the topic and the impact is far reaching.

“It’s far reaching because participants learn about the factors that lead to suicide, such as mental health issues, financial concerns and relationship problems, and are able be on the lookout for negative behaviors.”

Michael McLain, an AFJROTC member at Dover High, said he is looking forward to Saturday’s event.

“I’m looking forward to watching all the schools come out and compete and having everyone do the 22 push-ups to help raise awareness for all of the veterans that committed suicide,” he said. “It’s very important to raise awareness.”

Michael Klim, a junior at Dover, said that he already feels like he is a member of an exclusive club.

“It’s pretty important because being a part of AFJROTC we’re with the military, sort of, and the veterans served for us so it’s kind of like a way to give back to them and respect them,” he said.

The 22 Pushup Challenge has really taken off since the viral awareness campaign captured celebrity support in August.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Bacon, John Krasinski and Chris Pratt are just some of the celebrities who have participated in the challenge, doing their 22 pushups and then challenging other celebrities, pro athletes, politicians, etc.

The 22 veteran suicides per day figure was recently updated by a study that showed the rate had fallen to 20 veteran suicides per day in 2014. However, the pushup challenge remains at 22.

The 22 Pushup Challenge is similar to the ALS#IceBucketChallenge in that it encourages participants to be filmed doing 22 pushups and then nominating others to do the same.

But the pushup challenge is different since requesting donations is not a primary focus. It is more about raising awareness.

SMSgt Herriman said he couldn’t be more proud of how his young Senators have shown their respect for the nation’s veterans.

“I’m absolutely proud of them for the fact that they recognize what’s going on and they’re willing to be involved in this challenge to raise the awareness,” he said. “I’m proud of our students just for the fact that they grasp on and understand. We all understand.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had two cadets who have committed suicide since I’ve worked here at Dover High School and those that are hurt are the ones left behind. One ROTC Junior cadet committed suicide when he was in high school and the other one within six months of graduating.”

Both of those tragedies took place within the past five years.

SMSgt Herriman said he was originally challenged by a friend, SMSgt Mark Stevenson, who worked with somebody who had a son who was a veteran who committed suicide at a young age.

It didn’t take him long to answer the challenge.

Nowadays, the Veterans Administration is starting to focus its attention on another number, said SMSgt Herriman.

“It’s currently 20 veteran suicides a day and the VA is going to start pushing another number,” he said. “The 30 a day number that they have is a statistic of the number of veterans that they help save through their suicide hotline and other counseling services.”

Mr. Kirby said the awareness the 22 Pushup Challenge alone is providing is of great help to veterans.

“Through awareness they are able to step into a negative situation, avert a suicide, and save a life,” Mr. Kirby said. “Also through awareness they can discuss with others, who will then in turn be knowledgeable of suicidal situations.

“We can save lives through awareness and the challenge does just that by raising awareness of those who have ‘raised their hand’ to defend our nation.”

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