Marines march across Mississippi

By JILL WARE,

On October 16 two Marines, Gabriel Vasquez and Jason Bailess, embarked on a 155 mile “Ruck” across Mississippi, trekking from the Alabama state line to the Mississippi River, in only five days, to raise awareness and support in the battle against Veteran Suicide and Veteran Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“I am coordinating a walk or ruck across Mississippi with two Marines,” coordinator Gregg Phillips said in an email, “We started yesterday in Cuba, Alabama and are heading to Vicksburg. We are staying in Forest tonight after starting in Chunky this morning.”
The Scott County Times caught up with the men to find out more. Gulf War Veteran, Bailess, completed six years of service from 1989 – 1995 with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. This squadron is a fast and mobilized armored terrestrial reconnaissance battalion of the United States Marine Corps. Nicknamed the “Highlanders,” their primary weapon system is the LAV-25 Light Armored Vehicle armed with the M242 25mm Bushmaster chain gun.
They fall under the command of the 1st Marine Division and the I Marine Expeditionary Force. The unit is based out of the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
When his tour of duty concluded, Bailess decided to pursue a career in Law Enforcement in his hometown of Vicksburg and signed on with the Warren County Sheriff’s Department, where he has steadily progressed to his current position as Investigator.
When asked what drives him take on 155 miles and endure this “ruck”, Bailess responded, “I’ve personally seen a lot of friends suffer with PTSD. Since there’s really no cure, studies have shown that support and personal help really apply.”
Vasquez, pulled two tours of duty from 2006 – 2014. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Afterwards, Sgt. Vasquez returned to his hometown in Texas where he enrolled at Austin Community College to study business and marketing.
Before long, however, Vasquez heard another call to duty — the call to help raise funds for Semper Fi, a non-profit organization that funds a variety of programs to assist wounded veterans. Semper fidelis is a Latin phrase that means “always faithful” or “always loyal”. It is the motto of the United States Marine Corps, usually shortened to Semper fi.
Vasquez has personally logged over 27,000 miles of hiking, kayaking and cycling in support of the Semper Fi Fund. He has hiked the Pacific Crest, which is 2,659 miles long and ranges in elevation from just above sea level at the Oregon – Washington border to 13,153 feet at Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada; kayaked the Mississippi River, which is over 2,300 miles long; and biked from the state of Washington to the state of Maine, a distance of over 3,100 miles.
When asked what motivated him to tackle this “ruck”, Mr. Vasquez replied, “I met Jason (Bailess) when I was kayaking the Mississippi River. I suffer from PTSD personally, so, by helping others, I am also able to help myself.”
This 155 mile “Ruck” from the Alabama state line to the Mississippi River is a Between the Lines Event that is part of The Warrior Bonfire Program, an organization which is committed to providing opportunities that improve the lives of Purple Heart recipients on their life long journey of recovery and healing, with focus on creating activity based, stress free environments that promote camaraderie and therapeutic healing.
“We place warriors, wounded in combat with others of a similar experience, in a stress free, safe and secure setting which promotes wellness and health. We are committed to providing an atmosphere in a simple and straightforward manner by allowing our retreat events the freedom to be shaped and changed by the participants to be exactly what they need it to be. Pain shared is pain divided, joy shared is joy multiplied,” is a motto of The Warrior Bonfire Program.

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