Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why I'm Frustrated with the #22 kill Push Up Challenge for Veterans

The 22 kill push up challenge is to raise awareness to the fact that 22 Veterans commit suicide everyday. If you choose to accept this challenge, add a video everyday for 22 days, doing your 22 push ups and calling out someone new everyday to do the same.

The rules are simple: do 22 push ups, every single day, for 22 days. Each day, record yourself and, when you post your video, tag a friend and ask them to also participate in the challenge.

And the challenges - at least according to my news feed - have been readily accepted.

Except I've noticed something else: as quickly as they are initially accepted, they are completely forgotten.

What happened to day 7? Or 12, or 19? Shoot, what happened to day 2?

With every lack of daily post, the message of just give up, it's easier is whispered. And here's the thing: this challenge is to bring awareness to the fact that TWENTY TWO VETERANS SUCCEED IN COMMITTING SUICIDE EVERY DAY. The message through this challenge should scream don't give up! We know it's hard but I know you can keep pressing through!  Not, well, gee, this sucks, let's just stop and give up.

I am 100% certain that I could not athletically whip out twenty two push ups if someone asked me. I would consider it a futile attempt at best. In fact, I wouldn't even want to try because I wouldn't see the point. And I certainly wouldn't want someone video taping my pathetic attempt and failure to be broadcast on social media for all the world to see.

Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that getting out of bed isn't worth it. Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that punching in that phone number isn't going to make a difference. Kind of like how someone buys into the lies that talking to someone is just going to end in humiliation and more failure. 

But my healthy mind tells me that while it seems insurmountable in this moment --- and in fact, it kind of is, right? --- that if I just take that first step to try and then take another first step and try again tomorrow and then take another first step and try again the third day - eventually, I'll be able to get through twenty two push ups. Eventually, as long as I keep showing up and keep trying to give whatever little I've got, I will make it through. 

It won't be easy. And I'll want to quit and I'll hurt. I'll hurt everywhere. And those studs ripping off their twenty two and forgetting about it, they won't understand the hurt and the ache and how hard it was just for me to show up. But I'll know. But there is bound to be another person in the same boat as me who will understand the hard, too. 

Twenty two days is a big commitment. But I'm tired of people accepting the #22 kill push up challenge and not following through. Because military folk, their commitment is much, much longer than a mere twenty two days. You sign up for four years, you will give them four years. You re-up for another two? You're there for two. You don't get to change your mind, or stop mid stream. You don't get to stay in bed on the days you don't feel good. There is no dropping a class a few weeks into it because you feel your work load is too heavy. You do not get to pack up your things and go home when you want to. You have no choice. You made a commitment and you will honor it.

Your veterans, they missed birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, high school reunions. They missed sitting in the hospital holding their daddy's hand before he went in for surgery. They missed taking their sister to her cancer treatments. They missed picnics and concerts and water parks. The missed curling up on the couch with their wife. 

Instead, they were up all night on patrol, ensuring the perimeter was secure. They hiked for miles on end with a 40-pound rucksack on their back. They learned how to decontaminate themselves after a chemical attack, how to throw a grenade, and how to disarm the enemy in hand-to-hand combat drills. Oh, and just for the record, the number of push ups completed by those in the military every single day well exceeds twenty two. 

But, yeah, twenty two days in a row of twenty two push ups - part of me wonders if, when you realize how hard a 22-day commitment is, you're overcome with an overwhelming realization of the true meaning of military commitment and you start realizing, with awe, just how much these veterans have been through.

One day, while cleaning our barracks, a girl using a mechanical floor buffer quickly unplugged the machine, wrapped the cord around her neck and jumped out the third story window. 

During night training, the guy next to me died. Just stopped moving and died. We were shuffling through mud on our backs, our weapons across our chests, barbed wire inches from our faces, gunshots, explosions, chaos and yelling surrounding us -- and he just stopped. Stopped in a puddle of mud under the barbed wire. I got to the end and out of the chaos and watched as two soldiers went in and dragged him out. 

This all happened during training. I never went to war. I never felt that all encompassing fear, never witnessed that nightmare. And still, coming back and trying to fit into a world that I hadn't been in was difficult. Friends had moved on, family had inside jokes I didn't understand, I rolled my socks funny out of habit. I cannot imagine how hard it would be to come back after war. How does one even begin to try to find a new normal? 

There is a stereotype of military personnel. They're tough. Hard. They can handle anything. Besides, they willingly signed up, right? They knew what they were getting into. It's not like they were drafted.

Except there are still a whole lot of men walking among us who were drafted. The last draft was in the early 70's. For many, they didn't have a choice. 

And for a lot of young men and women, the military is a chance to rise up. Put your time in and get that education, that VA loan, that medical care. It might not be ideal but it's better than the projects they grew up in, or the abusive home they couldn't wait to escape, and it's something when you've got nothing. For a lot of veterans, the military was a way to exist, a way to live, a way to get food and shelter --- no one could foresee the effects of 9/11 or the years of military combat that followed.

22 push ups.
For 22 days.
Post the video and tag someone new each day.


To raise awareness. 

Twenty two veterans kill themselves every single day. 

That's too many. 

So, yes - accept the challenge! But then actually do the challenge. Fight through the hard days and complete the task. Because giving up is sending the wrong message. Because posting a video of yourself looking good doing push ups is self-serving --- instead, with each push up you do each day, think about how the military has affected you. Think about your time in service. Think about what you would do if you signed up. Could you? What do you think would be easy? What do you think would be hard?

Every day you hit record and drop to the floor, think about how you actively support those who have seen horrors you only watch through a cinema screen. Do you support them? Or do you just say you do?

Every time you bust out your twenty two, think about every military person you actually know. Have you reached out to them? Have you taken them to coffee? Do you know if they're struggling? What would the impact be if they killed themselves? Who would they leave behind? Are you okay with attending their funeral knowing you chose to not keep trying to keep the lines of communication open?

Look, I'm a big fan of armchair slacktivism - when done correctly. Throwing it out there once isn't enough. In a world full of shouting you have to keep putting the information out there. Put in your 22 days. Tag 22 different people to help get the word out. But PLEASE, ADD THIS NUMBER to each post you share: 1-800-273-8255. It belongs to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The lives of our veterans matter. Their hearts and their souls matter. They shouldn't be suffering alone and they shouldn't be left to figure it out on their own. Twenty two of our veterans succeed in committing suicide each and every day --- and that number is way too high. Our mission as a country, as decent human beings, should be to settle for nothing less than zero. And to do anything and everything we can until we reach zero.  

U.S. Army Sgt. Alexander Cerney, left, an infantryman with the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepares to do push-ups while Master Sgt. Theodore Cook, also with the 101st Airborne Division, watches during a Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter competition at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan, July 14, 2013.

** Visit the 22 Kill website to learn more about this awareness initiative; and to see exactly what the original challenge entailed. How has it changed through the "phone game" of social media?

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