Walking miles through the night, members of the Fort Meade community will show support for suicide prevention on Sept. 28.
The Cryptologic Warfare Group 6 Suicide Prevention Program is sponsoring a second Illuminating the Darkness Walk in observance of Suicide Prevention Month.
The first Illuminating The Darkness Walk was held two years ago and was also a collaboration between the Navy and the Army.
The event will start at 5 p.m. at the Gaffney Fitness Center outdoor track. Participants will walk around the track throughout the night. The walk ends at 6:35 a.m.
The event will begin with an opening ceremony at 6 p.m. Guest speakers include Navy Capt. Joe J. Johnson of the CWG 6 who will give opening remarks and CWG 6 Chaplain (Lt.) Jeff Spindle will give the invocation.
Navy Capt. Rachel Velasco-Lind of CWG 6 and Maryland Army National Guard Chaplain (Maj.) Lonny Wortham will be the keynote speakers.
The walk will begin after the opening ceremony and will feature a DJ, food trucks and a cookout.
The purpose of the walk is to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
Cryptologic Technician Intepertative 1 Travus Barber of Cryptologic Warfare Activity 65, a subordinate unit of the CWG6, is the assistant suicide prevention chief for Group 6 and is an organizer of the event.
“We are putting this event on for two major reasons — to raise awareness to multiple resources, both formal and informal, that can support someone when they are feeling lost, and also to help break the stigma that suicide and suicidal ideation are shameful and should be kept secret,” Barber said.
“Our partnership with the Army and other services comes from the fact that we are not alone in our struggles. Just as peers in our prevention program help each other, our services should be showing the same level of support.”
Laurie Hanley, one of the organizers of the event, said “we will be remembering those who lost a loved one, honoring those who have survived and supporting those who may be struggling.”
Hanley is the counseling and advocacy supervisor and Suicide Prevention Program manager for the Navy Fleet and Family Support Center at Fort Meade.
Fort Meade’s Army Substance Abuse Program will also participate.
“Collaboration is a must with prevention,” said Russell Himmelberger, Fort Meade’s Suicide Prevention Program manager. “The Fort Meade community is our family, and as a family we take care of one another.”
A DoD Problem
“In this culture, there is a push for being stronger than human,” Master Communications Spc. 3rd Class Julia Williams of CWG6, a suicide prevention advocate and an organizer of the event.
Williams said she hopes that participants leave the event realizing that no matter who they are, they are important.
“There’s a lot of stigma around reaching out for help and we do know that there are a fair number of people who are struggling,” Hanley said.
Suicide continues to be a problem across the DoD, and total number of yearly suicides is on the rise, said Himmelberger.
According to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, the total suicides for all the service branches in 2016 was 189. Last year, the number was 198. As of August of this year, the total is 216.
Community partners for the Illuminating the Darkness Walk include the Fort Meade USO Center, Planet Fitness, the NSA’s Shape Gym, Hope Comfort Dogs, Johns Hopkins Medicine Occupational Health and GrassRoots, a crisis intervention center in Howard County.
Like the first walk, white bags filled with glow sticks, called luminarias, will line the track. Participants will have the opportunity to decorate the bags with the names of loved ones or to honor suicide survivors.
Glow bracelets will also be available. Participants can wear colored beaded necklaces in honor of family members who died by suicide, suicide survivors and for people who are struggling.
Participants are advised to bring tents or sleeping bags so they can rest when they need to.
“We walk to erase the stigma and we walk to educate other people,” Hanley said. “If anybody finds themselves struggling, they need to know there are people who love them and that there are people who are willing to stay up all night to walk for them.”
Hanley said those who struggle with thoughts of suicide need to know that although they may face adversity, suicide is not an option.
“There are people who would drop everything to sit with them to listen to them to keep them safe,” she said.
Organizers said they hope this year’s event will be as successful as the previous walks.
Hanley said that after the first event, people commented on Facebook.
“They said it was moving to them and meaningful to them that we would do this,” she said.