When Retired United States Marine Corps Sergeant Brendan O’Toole, 24, joined the military in 2008, his patriotism and family military history inspired him to “do what I needed to do to support my country.” When he completed active duty in June 2012 and returned to his hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, he realized that his fellow veterans needed support – mental, physical, and social – as they reintegrated into their lives in the United States.
So on Veterans Day 2012, O’Toole launched The Run For Veterans in Oceanside, Calif., with the goal of bringing to light the challenges of returning veterans and of raising financial donations to support The USO, Give An Hour, and Team Red White & Blue. The respective missions of these organizations are to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families, to enrich the lives of veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity, and to offer free mental health services to military personnel, their loved ones, and hometown communities.
O’Toole, president and founder of The Run For Veterans, is running 3,600 miles through 21 states and Washington, DC. 1 Step at a Time. The run will finish in Portland, Maine, in late 2013.
“I hope this run will result in positive changes in communities throughout America by bridging the gap between veterans and citizens at the local level,” O’Toole says, calling on people to support veterans within their own communities. “Make a donation at www.therunforveterans.org, put your local veterans in touch with our partners and their services, join us on the road, and sponsor an event when we reach your town.”
Accompanying O’Toole every step of the way is hometown friend Joey Dwyer, owner of JWD Productions. Dwyer is directing a documentary retelling the travels across America, highlighting veterans and their stories. “Dwyer says, our goal is to inspire the uninspired and show our veterans who feel “lost” that it’s “ok not to be ok”, and that there are people and organizations everywhere that want to help.”
His Own Struggle Transitioning to Civilian Life
O’Toole served in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2012 with two successful deployments: the first in Haiti, Djibouti, and support operations for Iraq & Afghanistan in 2010; and the second in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan from August 2011 until New Year’s 2012, in which he established and maintained communications systems to coordinate air strikes against insurgent forces and support medical evacuations.
When he returned to the United States, O’Toole became aware that many veterans – including himself – were struggling with health problems, family issues, job concerns, and integrating back into their lives in America.
“The majority of veterans right now are not OK,” O’Toole says. “I spent four months in combat zones, and I myself have had problems with my temper and keeping my anger under control. The Run is part of how I keep myself calm and move forward.”
Running is also the closest experience that O’Toole could find to put himself in the shoes of veterans who deal with severe issues every day. “I have made running my daily obstacle,” he says. “It’s what I think about 24/7, just like someone who has a prosthetic leg and thinks about going to the grocery store or getting across town.”
For people who have friends or family members returning from military service, O’Toole advises that support is needed. “If you know a veteran, have you had a conversation with him or her to see if everything is OK? Have you surrounded that person with support and let that person know that he or she can go to you when times are tough?”
Inspired by Forrest Gump
The idea for a cross-country run dates back to O’Toole’s high school days, when he and his friends enjoyed watching the movie Forrest Gump. O’Toole’s friend, who works for Alexandria Toyota, promised that he’d make sure O’Toole had a truck if he would take on a cross-country challenge.
Five years later, O’Toole began planning the run and building a team to champion the journey – from deciding on the route to spreading the word. “Fortunately for me, that’s how the Marine Corps was,” O’Toole says. “Always a team effort.”
“The team effort, though, is not only coming from those of us on the road,” O’Toole explains. “We have supporters watching the weather for us, people coming out and cheering for us on the route, and people telling us their experiences and learning about the organizations we’re supporting. We take the time to have lunch with people, throw a football around, and exchange stories. Our supporters are the reason why we’re on the road.”
O’Toole is currently in the state of Alabama, 1,900 miles through his cross-country journey. His upcoming stops include Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham. He is available for television, radio, online, and print interviews to discuss the Run.
Follow the Run on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Run4Vets and on Twitter via @RUN4VETS.
The Run for Veterans is a charitable, nonprofit organization incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purpose of educating the American public about key issues confronting veterans transitioning from military to civilian life. The RUN is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Find more information on the Run at www.therunforveterans.org. Follow the Run on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Run4Vets and on Twitter via @RUN4VETS.
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