34-year-old Army vet Ernesto Rodriguez is passing through the Metroplex this week on a 2,200 mile walk across the country in honor of fellow veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Rodriguez joined the army at 19 and served in the U.S. Army Airborne Infantry for 15 years, including two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. His unit was one of the first to go into Iraq during the initial invasion in March 2003.
His service took its toll. Rodriguez has twice tried to kill himself.
“I was in a really bad way after my first tour in Afghanistan, and my second.” he told WFAA. “I have a daughter, and she would have been without a father. And that’s what I think about when thoughts like that creep up.”
According to a statistic based on a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report, 22 veterans commit suicide every day.
“22 veterans a day, I mean, that’s an epidemic. That shouldn’t be happening,” Rodriguez said. “We’re trained and conditioned to feel nothing, we’re trained and conditioned to be warriors, we’re trained and conditioned to fight and kill. But when we get out, we don’t want to admit we have PTSD.”
Rodriguez credits his military training for giving him the strength and tenacity to make the cross-country journey. Although he does rely on the kindness of strangers, who frequently provide a hot meal or help with a hotel room.
“War is hell. That’s very true, and you see things that no person should ever see,” he said. “So if you give yourself purpose, you can quell those [bad] thoughts.”
He’s been in the Dallas area this week doing interviews to raise awareness and hopefully, he says, let other soldiers know they’re not alone in their struggles.
After the short break in Dallas he’ll be back on I-20 again, heading west to Los Angeles on a journey that started in his hometown of Clarksville, Tennesse. He averages about 16 to 20 miles a day.
You can follow Rodriguez’s progress on his Facebook page.