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'Put down that gun and pick up the phone': Group walking across North Dakota to raise awareness of PTSD and honor fallen veteran

Participants of this year's Brady's Border2Border Ruck March kicked off their trek across North Dakota earlier this week. Special to Forum News Service1 / 3
To kick off 2018's first-ever Brady's Border2Border Ruck March, friends stopped by Brady Oberg's grave in Ulen, Minn., to pay their respects. Forum News Service file photo2 / 3
Brady Oberg grew up in Ulen, Minn., and served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. After coming home, he faced challenges assimilating to his new life, and he died by suicide Aug. 6, 2015. Special to Forum News Service3 / 3

BEACH, N.D. — If you went out for pizza and beer the other night at the American Legion in Beach, you probably noticed a bigger — and perhaps hungrier — crowd than normal.

It's where the 16 people taking part in Brady's Border2Border Ruck March gathered Monday, May 20, the night before kicking off their 397-mile trek across the state of North Dakota.

"Everyone couldn't have been nicer," said John Dalziel, one of the organizers of the ruck march. "Seeing all of these people, asking us questions, honking their horns, showing their support, it just reaffirms my faith in humanity."

Dalziel and the others are getting a lot of attention as they walk in teams of five on 5-mile treks, each carrying a rucksack weighing 20 pounds.

"The 20-pound weight represents the 20 veterans who die every day in the United States by suicide," Dalziel says.

The goal of it all is to raise awareness for veteran post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide recognition and prevention. It's named in honor of Brady Oberg, a Ulen, Minn., soldier who died by suicide in 2015.

This is the second year of the ruck march after last year's inaugural walk over Memorial Day week when Dalziel and friends Ryan Daniel, Trent Dawson and Jeremy Donais decided to honor fallen soldiers who didn't die from war, but from its aftermath.

The four men took turns marching 240 miles from near the Canadian border to the North Dakota/South Dakota border. They thought they'd walk a west-to-east route this year across North Dakota because the story still needs to be told.

"This is a passion of mine," says Dalziel, a Marine Corps veteran who lost a friend to suicide two years ago. "We just want them to know that it's not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Put down that gun and pick up the phone."

Brady's story

Brady Oberg grew up in Ulen, Minn., and joined the Army in 2009. He deployed to Afghanistan, serving on the frontline during Operation Enduring Freedom. Following a year overseas, he returned to the United States, got married and finished his college degree.

Despite outward appearances, his family said the challenges Oberg had assimilating to his new life after combat proved to be more than he could bear. He died by suicide Aug. 6, 2015.

RELATED: Veteran who died by suicide to be honored through WDAY Honor Flight

Oberg's family said they were inspired to start a foundation in his honor because he had stated not long before he died that he wanted to make a difference in someone's life. The Brady Oberg Legacy Foundation raises awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder, creates connections between veterans through retreats and provides scholarships to veterans pursuing careers in mental health counseling.

RELATED: Carrying the weight of veteran suicide: Border to border walk is to honor and remember

This year's ruck marchers got a head start on the trek by taking part in the 10K at Saturday's Sanford Health Fargo Marathon. Dalziel says it was a way to promote their upcoming walk.

"It was a prelude," Dalziel says. "Kind of like the trailer for the upcoming feature film."

As the big march got underway earlier this week, Dalziel said he was hoping the weather wouldn't be as cold and wet as it was for the 10K — they're already facing some challenges they didn't encounter last year.

"It's rather unique. Last year from Pembina to Fairmount, I think our biggest hill was the 34th Street bridge in Moorhead," Dalziel said with a laugh. "This year we're going through the Painted Canyon (in Theodore Roosevelt National Park), where there are some pretty aggressive hills."

But he said as tired as the group gets walking around the clock — and dealing with just a couple of hours of sleep a day, blisters on their feet and weight on their back — it's nothing compared to what some of our soldiers face.

"This is life-altering," he said. "We'll be thinking about Brady. We all know someone who has died by suicide. This is our way to pay homage to them.