When Rotterdam resident and Marine veteran Daniel Paige heads out on one of his 17-mile walks, he carries a lot more than his 60.4-pound pack.
“So many veterans, when they come home, no matter . . . the things that they’ve seen, they feel like they need to carry the weight themselves,” Paige said. “The 60 pounds [is] a symbolic form of their weight and that they don’t have to carry it themselves. We can carry it together.”
This month, over three days, he plans to walk 50-plus miles while carrying a 60-pound pack to raise awareness about soldier and veteran suicide. It’s part of a national movement of Facebook challenges organized by the non-profit Stop Soldier Suicide and supported by insurance provider USAA to help raise awareness and funds for at-risk veterans and military personnel.
Paige spent about a dozen years in the Marine Corps after graduating from Mohonasen High School in 1993. He completed boot camp at Paris Island in South Carolina and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California before reenlisting for another four years in 1997 and serving in Washington, D.C. After a few years working in the Baltimore City Police Department, he returned to the Marine Corps in 2004 and was sent abroad on several deployments.
Following stints with the Department of Defense in San Diego, the Watervliet Arsenal and the New York State Department of Education, in recent years Paige has become a full-time home inspector and runs A-Pro Home Inspections.
Paige is also actively involved in veteran causes and organizations, including Operation At Ease (OAE), a Rotterdam-based nonprofit that pairs veterans and first responders with dogs from local shelters and provides a guided training program for post-traumatic stress and light mobility service dogs.
Paige went through the program in 2015 and was paired with Shirley, a pit bull who is now 12 years old.
“She was the first rescue dog that we placed with a veteran,” said Joni Bonilla, the founder of OAE. The pair eventually became part of the OAE logo, with Paige and Shirley’s silhouettes marking the center.
Though Paige has long since completed the program, he continues to give back to OAE. This month and last he’s donating 10% of every home inspection that he completes to the organization.
“The way he thinks is he received from us, so now he gives back,” Bonilla said.
This is the first time he’s done a Stop Solider Suicide challenge. He’s posted about the experience and about mental health issues on Facebook, sometimes live-streaming as he walks 17 miles from his home in Rotterdam to Life Church in Latham.
According to Stop Soldier Suicide, veterans are at a much higher risk of suicide than their peers who have not served. In a 2021 study from Brown University, 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans who served in the military since 9/11 have died by suicide. That’s four times as many U.S. service members and veterans that have died by suicide than have been killed in combat since 9/11.
“Everybody experiences some sort of trauma, whether deployed or not deployed,” Paige said. “There’s female veterans that have probably experienced sexual assault . . . and that has caused them post-traumatic stress. Then you have guys like myself that have been deployed in combat that may have seen things [or] experienced things that [caused] post-traumatic stress, but everybody’s got their story.”
Completing the 50-plus mile challenge, which he plans to do on Thursday, is a way to show fellow veterans and service members that they’re not alone.
“[It’s] about letting someone else who’s struggling see that he’s physically putting himself there,” Bonilla said.
The message is made all the more powerful because of Paige’s experience in the military.
“Veterans relate to other veterans. In the branches, there’s competition – the Navy versus Army versus Marines,” Bonilla said. “But the minute you’re out, you’re just a veteran and I’ve never known a more unified group of people . . . So to see another veteran, recognizing your struggle means [a lot].”
While the challenge takes place during Mental Health Awareness month and on the cusp of Memorial Day, Paige hopes people realize that veteran and service member suicide is an issue all year round.
“It’s not just on days that we celebrate veterans. Veterans struggle with mental health issues every day of their lives by the things that they’ve been exposed to, or suffered from,” Paige said.
“It’s such a cliche to celebrate veterans on just those holidays instead of understanding that it still happens even in between those holidays as well. I think that’s my biggest thing is . . . what can we do better to make awareness out there more not just for people that know veterans but for veterans themselves that are struggling with those issues?”
As part of the challenge, Paige is also raising funds for Stop Soldier Suicide. To donate visit “Daniel’s fundraiser for the 50 Mile Challenge powered by USAA” on Facebook.
For any service member who needs mental health services or anyone interested in donating, Bonilla also recommends HicksStrong Inc., a local organization that works to connect service members to therapists via telehealth so they can receive confidential support. For more information visit Hicksstrong.org. For more information on Stop Soldier Suicide visit stopsoldiersuicide.org.
If you’re a veteran or service member in crisis, call Stop Soldier Suicide at 844-889-5610.
There will be a Memorial Day Ruck in honor of the late Specialist 4th Class Abigail Jenks of Saratoga County, who died last year.
Organized by 2020 Saratoga Springs High School graduates Vincent Sablich and Jack Trimmings (who is an Army ROTC Cadet), the ruck will help raise funds to establish the Abigail Jenks Memorial Scholarship for enlisting military personnel graduating from Saratoga Springs High School.
Jenks (Nov. 18, 2000 – Apr. 19, 2021), grew up in the Greenfield-Saratoga area and had a passion for animals. As a 4-H member, she cared for chickens and rabbits and showed them in the local fairs. She also loved drawing and was an aspiring tattoo artist.
Jenks joined the Army after graduating from Saratoga Springs High School in 2018, carrying on a family tradition of military service. She was a member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. She died during a static line training jump from a helicopter.
Sablich and Trimmings have held Memorial Day rucks for the last two years in an effort to raise awareness and funds for mental health and suicide prevention in the veteran community.
This time, they’re honoring Jenks. They plan to ruck 22 miles with 35-pound packs from their neighborhood in Wilton to the Gerald B. H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, where they will hold a prayer service. The ruck will finish at the Saratoga Lake State Boat Launch.
Their goal is to raise $2,000. To donate, visit the Abigail Jenks Memorial Scholarship on GoFundMe.com.