Large American flag is displayed in the end zone at Doyt L. Perry Stadium
The American flag is displayed on Heroes Night at Doyt L. Perry Stadium on Nov. 9, 2022. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

BGSU Student Veterans of America members embarking on 22-mile ruck to honor fallen heroes and raise awareness on veteran suicide crisis

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Battle of I-75 Ruck the Ball event will see military-connected students march from the UT campus to Doyt L. Perry Stadium on Veterans Day and deliver the game ball for the Nov. 14 rivalry matchup

Ahead of the rivalry showdown between the Falcons and Rockets on the gridiron, members from the Bowling Green State University chapter of Student Veterans of America will complete a military-style march - or ruck - from the University of Toledo Glass Bowl to Doyt L. Perry Stadium at BGSU, where the students will deliver both the game ball and a dose of awareness of the national veteran suicide crisis.

During the Battle of I-75 Ruck the Ball event on Veterans Day, Saturday, Nov. 11, the students plan to carry 50-pound rucksacks while they cover the highly symbolic 22-mile distance between the two points and raise awareness of the number of military veterans and active-duty personnel who are victims of suicide.

“We want to bring attention to this epidemic of veterans taking their own lives, and find ways to reach out to them and support them as a community,” said Megan Missler, a junior construction management major at BGSU and a member of the Ohio Army National Guard who has been the primary driving force behind the event.

“The 22 miles between the two stadiums couldn't measure out more perfectly, since 22 is the number of veterans and military members we lose to suicide every day. The suicide crisis is in the front of our minds – I just lost a member of my battalion last month,” Missler said.

With a police escort accompanying them, the students plan to ruck through Perrysburg and follow Dixie Highway - State Route 25 - en route to BGSU. They expect the ruck to take about 10 hours.

“We hope this brings veterans together as well, even veterans that don't know each other, because in the military it is a big family – it doesn't matter what branch you are in,” said Missler.

The BGSU chapter of Student Veterans of America serves military-connected students, whether they be veterans, active duty, National Guard, reservists or dependents. The group seeks to have all military students succeed in higher education, achieve their academic goals and gain meaningful employment.

The University's consistent support of veterans and military students led to BGSU ranking No. 1 in the Midwest for veterans and active military students by Military Times in its Best for Vets: Colleges 2023 rankings. BGSU also was designated a Collegiate Purple Star campus in 2022 by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor Randy Gardner for its efforts to support students with military backgrounds. The University was among the first group of 33 Ohio colleges and universities to receive the distinction.

POW/MIA table is set up at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union
The POW/MIA table set up during Veterans Day week activities at the Bowen-Thompson Student Union is full of symbolism to remind viewers of the sacrifice of American prisoners of war and those missing in action. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

BGSU representatives met with the Student Veterans of America at UToledo to help coordinate the Ruck the Ball event, where students from both schools will ruck alongside each other.

“The ruck idea came from our students who attended a national SVA conference last year. They came back charged up to really make a difference," said Dr. Barbara Henry, assistant vice president of Nontraditional and Military Student Services at BGSU. "Their thought is this is not a one-and-done event. They want to start a tradition and a legacy with this ruck event, envisioning that each year the ruck will go toward the university that is hosting the rivalry game. How they’ve managed to pull this together is truly amazing. It’s a testament to the creativity and inventiveness of both the students and their leadership.”

Dr. Brian Heilmeier, director of Student Engagement at BGSU, said the University's SVA supports student veterans by fostering a sense of belonging.

“This ruck event is another way that they are connecting with one another, as well as with the Toledo student veterans' community,” Heilmeier said. “This ruck is important because it honors the students who have served this country. The students continue to serve by bringing awareness to their organization and all veterans in northwestern Ohio.”

Geoff Roberts, the military program coordinator for Nontraditional and Military Student Services at BGSU, said the choice to use a ruck to showcase the event is significant because it is one of the oldest forms of battle movement and many members of the military have taken part in a ruck.

“Many of us veterans, myself included, have lost close friends that we served with to suicide, so the notion of highlighting that issue is very important,” Roberts said. “The fundamental view in the military is that you don't leave anyone behind, so you find ways to support the veterans who might be struggling and feeling lost or alone.”

BGSU Veterans Memorial
The BGSU Veterans Memorial features five pillars — representing branches of the U.S. military — inscribed with the names of alumni and student service members who died while in service to their country. (BGSU photo/Craig Bell)

For Madelyn Goodale, a BGSU junior majoring in biology, the ruck also has a very close, personal connection. She is co-president of the BGSU SVA chapter and a member of the Ohio Army National Guard who comes from a military family.

“I've always been drawn to the military because of my dad and his service, and I know that too many of his buddies from the military have been lost,” she said. “We all know people who have taken their own lives and we desperately want to bring awareness to this and let people know they are not alone. Since I serve as well, this is much more of an issue for me.”

Goodale said the SVA organization and events such as the rivalry ruck allow her and other members of the military community to stay connected with each other. She said the BSGU student group is highly motivated to reach out to any veterans in the area and provide them with the support and encouragement that could be vital to their overall health and well-being.

“Everyone struggles,” she said, “but that isolation and emptiness so many veterans feel – that needs to change. It's not something we can do overnight, but it is something we have to work very hard to change.”

The students emphasized they would like to see the BGSU-UT pregame ruck become an annual event with a fund-raising mechanism that will in turn support more programs on campus for veterans and military-connected students.

“An event like the ruck is so important since it will hopefully make a lot more people aware of the challenges that members of the military face, especially when they try to go back to normal lives,” Missler said. “I hope that we can do this for years and years to come, and really make it a game changer.”

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | | 419-372-6349

Updated: 11/13/2023 08:33AM