Nearly 200 Atlanta veterans are gathering this Saturday, September 5, to march the Atlanta Beltline in teeny tiny shorts (otherwise known as silkies) and combat boots. But it’s all for a good cause, of course. It is estimated that nearly 22 veterans commit suicide each day. The Silkies Hike was born just a few months ago in San Diego, founded by retired Marine Captain Donny O’Malley, who served in Afghanistan. He held the belief that if veterans have the opportunity to come together to talk about their unique experiences, then they are better able to access the resources they need to acclimate back to civilian life. O’Malley founded the non-profit organization Irreverent Warriors to grow the resources available to this vulnerable group of veterans he is trying to reach. Since its inception, Silkies Hikes have been held in cities across the U.S. including Washington, D.C., Houston, New York City and others.
Atlanta Silkies Hike organizer Kyle Moore, a decorated Marine veteran, said their goal is to not only raise awareness, but more so to bring vets together. “Getting veterans together, sharing in our unique humor and culture of combat, and building camaraderie are all designed to foster new relationships amongst veterans,” he said. “Once connected, these groups of veterans can encourage action for PTSD, depression and other issues that make veterans choose suicide.”
The Daisy Duke style training shorts may be a laughing matter among the veterans, but the length of this hike is no joke. The walk is 22 kilometers, or 13.6 miles, long, with the 22 signifying the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide each day. Not only is the length grueling, but many plan to carry 22 kilograms (that’s nearly 50 pounds) of weight in their backpacks. The march is expected to take nearly eight hours and will begin at Centennial Olympic Park and wind along the Beltline before ending at the Carter Center.
While this is a very heavy subject, the group’s goal is to keep the atmosphere light and fun by incorporating a bar crawl, which includes stops at Park Tavern, SweetWater Brewery and Krog Street Market. They’ll wrap up the day with an afterparty for the veterans and their families and friends at Brewhouse Cafe in Little Five Points.
“In my opinion, the reason this problem is so devastating is simply because vets feel isolated and the traditional routes of treatment for combat related issues are not reaching the people who need help the most,” Kyle said. “It’s a tough transition [back to civilian life] without a lot of meaningful resources to rely on.”