Vet riding across state to raise awareness
To honor a friend and raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide, a Fargo man will ride from Beach to Fargo beginning Sunday.
National Guard Spc. Dan Olson, 26, of Bismarck, now of Fargo, served with Staff Sgt. Joe Biel, a native of Peever, S.D., and they became friends while in Iraq.
On their second deployment, the two were assigned to trip route clearance, or driving routes used by U.S. forces in search of military weapons. They located over 470 weapons, but reported they felt themselves always on edge, worried about their safety and the safety of others in their unit.
Biel and Olson returned from duty in November 2006.
On May 1, 2007, Biel's family buried him in Wilmot, S.D., after he committed suicide just a few days earlier, a result of PTSD.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents or military combat, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
People with PTSD have persistent frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal and feel emotionally numb, especially with people they were once close to. They may experience sleep problems and can be easily startled, according to NIMH.
Backed by the North Dakota American Legion's "Courage Carries On" program, Olson hopes that his ride will help other soldiers affected by PTSD.
"We started 'Courage Carries On' a few years ago just because of this whole suicide issue, to bring awareness of the issue of the post-traumatic stress disorder and how severe that can get to the point where somebody wants to commit suicide," said Jim Deremo, chairman of the American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation committee.
"There is help available, and there are a lot of people in the VA and in the military that want to help and can help, but you have to have the courage to pick up the phone and make the phone call," Deremo said.
Deremo will be riding along with Olson in a vehicle.
Those in the military have a "warrior" mentality, Deremo said.
"You're tough, you're in war and people are shooting at you," Deremo said. "You're tough and can survive anything. Unfortunately, people think they can survive post-traumatic stress disorder. When you see the suicide rate among our military going up and up and up all the time, for whatever reason, people just aren't getting the word or are not making the phone call."
Dickinson resident Dr. Alan Fehr, director of psychological health with the North Dakota National Guard, said the point of the organization is to try to overcome the stigma attached to the disorder and encourage veterans to seek help if they need it.
"There are lots of services available, but veterans as a whole tend not to come forward and seek the help that they need," Fehr said. "We have lots of numbers of people who get deployed, and there's a percentage of them who come back with some issues that they need professional help on, and the majority of them do not seek help."
Olson said he thinks PTSD isn't getting enough attention and believes those in the military don't like to discuss it, and hopes the ride will bring more people to talk about it and address it.
Olson said he rides his bike nearly everywhere, so the adjustment won't be difficult.
"I've been riding bike for probably three years, I ride bike everywhere," Olson said. "People are invited to come out and ride with us."
Olson's ultimate goal would be to receive corporate sponsorship and continue to ride his bike across the country, raising funds and awareness, he said.
A kick-off reception is slated to be held at the Legion Post in Beach at 6 p.m. Saturday, with the bike ride officially beginning Sunday in Beach. On Sunday evening, a reception is scheduled for Olson at St. Patrick's Garvin Hall in Dickinson at 6 p.m.
The ride is expected to end on May 31 in Fargo.
For more information on the ride, visit www.facebook.com/NDlegion.
For information on how to donate, visit www.ndlegion.org.