Ernesto Rodriguez, a U.S. Army veteran who did four tours in the Middle East, was on the verge of completing his 2,200 mile walk to raise awareness of veteran suicide when Mike Opelka got him on the phone on the "Pure Opelka" show today. The last five miles end at the Santa Monica Pier in California. Rodriguez started in Tennessee.
He told Mike "It's a big day. It's very overwhelming." Twenty-two soldiers kill themselves every day, effectively losing their battles with Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after fighting in battle for their country.
"I'm stressed out," the exhausted walker continued. The problem with empathy, he said, is "taking on the pain of the other people." Rodriguez has met many people on his four month journey across the country from all backgrounds, many who have shared their stories with him. "Those people need somebody."
Mike asked if he had seen "any growth or change in how we're taking care of our veterans" since he began. Rodriguez said he has heard a lot of talk, but talking isn't always action. So far he has mostly seen people connect with each other. The walk has been a "good networking tool" for mental health and action. "People [are] flying from Virginia and Dallas just to walk [the last] five miles with me. "
Mike asked what's next after this epic trek. After a "very long nap," Rodriguez will be co-writing a 22 chapter book chronicling the walk. The end of every chapter will feature a memorial of a friend lost to suicide.
"I'll make sure I'm not forgotten," Rodriguez said. "The walk's over, but the message should never be."