Somerset County Democrats Veterans’ Caucus Holds Ruck March to Highlight Veterans’ Mental Health Crisis and Support Claymore Vets

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Somerset County Democrats Veterans’ Caucus Holds Ruck March to Highlight Veterans’ Mental Health Crisis and Support Claymore Vets

South Bound Brook, NJ – May 26, 2024

The Somerset County Democrats Veterans’ Caucus organized the second annual Memorial Ruck through several communities in Somerset County on Sunday May 26, 2024. Led by veterans Marco Laguna (US Army), and Pablo Orozco (USMC), the event aimed to bring attention to the critical mental health crisis affecting veterans while raising funds for the Somerset County Based Claymore Vets. Claymore Vets founder Maria L. Salazar (USMC) and numerous supporters joined the march, which commenced in Raritan at the Basilone Statue, where last year’s ruck ended, passed through Somerville, Bridgewater, Bound Brook, and concluded in South Bound Brook at the Memorial Park.

The Ruck March, an arduous physical challenge, symbolized the burdens that veterans carry in their daily lives, particularly the invisible wounds of war. By embarking on this demanding journey, the participants sought to raise awareness about the pressing mental health issues faced by veterans and their urgent need for comprehensive support and resources.

“The Veterans’ Caucus is deeply committed to advocating for the well-being of our veterans,” said Marco Laguna, a former US Army servicemember. “Through events like this Ruck, we hope to shed light on the mental health crisis affecting our veterans and ensure that they receive the care and support they deserve, while remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

The event garnered support from various individuals and organizations, including Commissioner Director Shanel Robinson, who served in U.S. Air Force Reserves. “There are still veterans or families that are carrying on the legacy for those who lost their lives, and were brave so we can continue to be free.”

The Somerset County Democrats Veterans’ Caucus chose to raise funds for this year for Claymore Vets, a Somerset County based organization who’s founder understands well the disconnection veterans face when re-entering the civilian sector. By channeling their efforts toward supporting the Claymore Vets, the caucus seeks to make a tangible impact on veterans’ lives and contribute to the broader effort of creating a robust mental health support network for those who have served and encourage community members to learn more about the organization’s work and donate to support them at https://claymorevets.org/

Members of the ruck, which included Dimitra Bairaktaris (Skillman), Matthew Boyce (Hillsborough), Guy Citron (Tewksbury), Jennifer Ehrentraut (Hawthorne), Marco Laguna (US Army, Veterans’ Caucus Chair, Hillsborough), Erynn Murray (Hillsborough), Pablo Orozco (USMC, Raritan), Khushwant Pall (Raritan Township), Joanne Presseley (US Navy, US Army, Manville), Maria Salazar (USMC, Claymore Vets Founder, Bridgewater), Francisco “Doc” Schupp (US Army, Elmwood Park) & Shadow, NJVN Service Dog, Christine Sokoloski (Manville), Hermes Vallejo (Hillsborough), Margaret Weinberger (Somerville), adorned their packs with yellow ribbons with the names of those they were memorializing.

Two American Flags were also carried during the Ruck. During a flag ceremony at Memorial Park in South Bound brook the first flag was presented to Claymore Vets founder Maria Salazar. The second flag was present to South Bound Brook Council President Elizabeth Konkle in honor of her husband Craig Konkle, a decorated firefighter, community volunteer and father, who died in the line of duty earlier this year.

“Deputy Fire Chief Konkle died serving his community to keep it safe,” expressed by Marco Laguna, a former US Army servicemember, before presenting Council President Konkle with the flag.

Along the route supporters including Heather Boyce (Hillsborough), Migdalia Calderon (Haledon), Jennifer Dawson (Chair, Green Brook Democrats), Abel Gomez (former Coucilmember, Bound Brook), Michele Kidd (Chair, Hillsborough Democratic Organization), Elizabeth Konkle (Council President, South Bound Brook), Samantha Gabriella Laguna-Cano (Middlesex Borough), Kendall Lopez (Councilmember, Bound Brook), Shanel Robinson (Somerset County Commissioner Director, USAFR, Franklin), Mike Schraufnagel (US Army, Commander VFW Post 8371), Mary Swarbrick (Chair, Bound Brook Democrats), Roberta Walters (Chair, Manville Democrats), James Von Schilling (Somerville) cheered on those rucking and set up water and snack stations.

The Somerset County Democrats Veterans’ Caucus extends its gratitude to all participants, supporters, and sponsors who contributed to the success of the Ruck March. Their collective efforts have raised awareness and funds to address the mental health crisis among veterans, laying the groundwork for future initiatives and advocacy to ensure no veteran is left behind.

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