Army combat veteran runs over 400 miles on Natchez Trace to raise awareness about suicide prevention

Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 5:47 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - One Army combat veteran is once again on the front lines, but this time, in a battle many veterans struggle with - the fight with their mental health.

Army Combat Veteran Philip Parson says it’s a silent battle for many soldiers.

“In the military, it’s a weird situation where they want to say mental health matters. But the other side says, just like my battalion commander said before we invaded Iraq, ‘keep a bullet for yourself’,” Parsons said.

For over 13 years, Parson served in the United States Army Infantry - fighting in Iraq after 9/11.

On September 23, 2006, that’s when Parsons says he took a turn for the worst.

“I put the gun to my head, finger on the trigger, and I tried. And all sudden, you know, I couldn’t pull the trigger. And I pulled plenty of triggers in my time in the military. But I couldn’t pull that one. I felt like a double failure,” Parsons explained.

Days after, Parsons discovered running and has been running ever since.

Now, he’s running all 444 miles of the Natchez Trace in 11 days for not just himself, but for other veterans like him.

“The very first day we took off, there was a lady who met coming out of Nashville. There’s a bridge that people used to jump off, she met me at the bridge and said that my story stopped her from jumping. That makes all that pain worth every bit of experiencing it,” Parsons said.

Dustin Canestorp is a U.S. Marine veteran, a friend of Parsons, and the founder of the Bravo Alpha Foundation - an organization he founded to help support veterans when he struggled with his mental health as well.

“My biggest thing was, I wanted to make sure I brought all my Marines back no matter what. But then these guys started losing their fight with their demons, and they started committing suicide, which really started messing me up,“ Canestorp explained. “At the end of the day, we want to try to be proactive, not just reactive. And let’s start making an impact on this thing, you know, and reduce the suicide rate, which is currently at 31.2 veterans a day.”

Parson is running around 40 miles per day until he reaches Natchez on Saturday.

“I can run on miles knowing and I saved a life. I mean when your soul, your body gets stuck in these tight spots or these long hills and, you see that, you’re like okay, just another step. One more step, and we’ll deal with the next one when we get there,” Parsons said.

Parsons says all of the money that is donated during the run will be used by the Bravo Alpha Foundation, where they will help other veterans and first responders go to running camps, deal with their mental health, and more.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

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