Taking on veteran suicide, one pair of ‘Ranger panties’ at a time
Active-duty military personnel and veterans share many common experiences that often distinguish us from civilians. We can come together around a shared duty station, commander or unit, or unforgettable aspects of our training. But it’s often our dark sense of humor – stories about Jody, tales of ass-catching antics on and off the post, and the ribs of comrades and competing branches – that underpins military culture and unites the community. That’s why I was excited when I recently discovered a growing nonprofit, Irreverent warriors, whose mission is to bring military and veterans together using humor and camaraderie. Their goal is to improve mental health and end veteran suicide through humor.
I was intrigued.
Lucky for me, Irreverent Warriors had a very popular event that I could attend right in New York: a Silkies Hike. The hike was designed to bring together veterans, active duty soldiers, reservists and retired military personnel (in Silkies shorts – also known as “Ranger Pants” or “Catch-Me-F ** K-Me’s “) to be among friends and build new bonds. The New York City Silkies Hike was just one of five taking place that day. The hikes took place across the country and attracted hundreds of hikers.
“Right now we have 65 hikes planned for 2021,” Irreverent Warriors CEO Cindy McNally said. “We have doubled the number of hikes in two years!
But the band does more than Silkies Hikes. According to McNally, the organization has organized “camping trips, the Silkies Olympics, boat trips, community cleanings, events for disabled and senior vets, and much more.”
And the events are strictly for the military. The goal is to make sure that members know that everyone who participates is wearing the uniform or has already worn it.
It was reassuring to me. I knew my dirty jokes and endless f-bombs would be welcome and even encouraged. This toilet humor doesn’t always go well with civilians, but a soldier, an aviator, a sailor or a sailor (chuckle) always You understand.
So I went, Silkies and everything.
Warriors SP at 8:30 a.m. led by event organizer Marc Herzog taking the point and carrying the Irreverent Warriors’ black flag.
As if sensing my newness, Irreverent Warriors New York area chief Marc Herzog told me that his first social event in 2017 “was the most amazing experience ever.”
“I found my people for the first time,” he added.
Another member of the Irreverent Warriors, a Marine named Kevin Bunn, assured me, “A lot of us have shared your experience… we’re not going to push you. I know where you have been and I know what you are going through.
I was actually pretty comfortable with every hiker. I knew what kind of people there were around me: serious, hardworking, selfless Americans who would jump at any opportunity to help a brother or sister in uniform.
Kevin confirmed what my gut knew: “[The vets] need these events to keep them from feeling isolated, “he said.” Just one or two events get them through the year.
The Warriors show up at training for a photo in Times Square, New York. (Photo courtesy of Arturo Martinez, Marine.)
I also knew they could party, as I have done several times before (probably too much). And partying was the first thing I saw that morning.
As we were meeting at the starting point in Central Park, many members of the Irreverent Warriors broke open beers. I admit I was a little nervous that this matter was getting out of hand. As a former officer, I knew the math: soldiers + alcohol = debauchery.
But it turned out to be anything but that.
No matter how many drinks some Warriors drank (and a few drank a lot!), They knew which line not to cross. No one urinated on the street, left garbage, or damaged property. With the exception of a few name calling and missteps, it was pure professionalism at its best. I was impressed, a little relieved and totally at ease.
On numerous occasions, curious onlookers have asked the Warriors about the group’s goal. No matter who answered, the answer was always the same: “We bring Veterans together using humor and camaraderie to improve mental health and prevent Veteran suicide. “
A small item the size of a platoon poses for a photo at one of the checkpoints, Washington Square Park, New York.
Another warrior, “AA Ron,” was asked what the group meant to him: “I have met a lot of veterans through IW,” he replied. “No matter when you’ve served, we’re the same. We are there for each other to cheer each other up and enjoy our lives and the lives of lost others.
The New York hike peaked at Ground Zero. As we skirted a corner of town in the Financial District, we encountered the Freedom Tower. The direct view of the building and the way it towered over the landscape caught everyone’s attention. The party atmosphere quickly plunged into a grim state. The group, whose mood was partying and incessant chanting, fell silent. We all felt the same, we all knew what it meant.
As we gathered outside the Freedom Tower, several warriors took to the stage to tell their stories of lost and remembered people. The message was clear: you’re not alone!
After a moment of silence, prayer and warm hugs, we gathered our things and continued the mission, as all warriors do.
If you would like to get involved or donate to support the Irreverent Warriors mission, visit their website, www.irreverentwarriors.com.