Hike organized to draw attention to veterans services
November 14, 2014 12:00 AM
Former Steeler Rocky Bleier, left, one of the honorary co-chairmen of “The Crucible,” a 70-mile three-day extreme hike through the Laurel Mountains, stands with Jared Souder, an Iraq War veteran, on Thursday.
By Dan Majors / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Veterans and military families know all too well that navigating the paths to services and assistance can be an uphill climb.
Perhaps a brutal trek through the woods can help.
Jared Souder, the founder and executive director of Checkpoint, announced plans Thursday for a 70-mile, three-day and two-night extreme hike through the Laurel Mountains in May intended to raise money and awareness for his nonprofit organization, which is working to coordinate and streamline veterans services.
Fifty supporters are expected to participate in the venture called “The Crucible.”
“There are about 190 organizations in the region that provide some sort of service or resource that is aimed at the veteran community,” said Mr. Souder, 40, who served in the Iraq War. “They’re completely fragmented and disorganized.
“Checkpoint was designed to make that process easier. It’s not creating new resources; it’s creating better information and making that transition from ‘I have a need’ to needs being met as seamless as possible.”
Joining Mr. Souder for a news conference at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine on the South Side were former Steelers running back Rocky Bleier and Joseph Maroon, a UPMC neurosurgeon and team doctor for the Steelers. Mr. Bleier and Dr. Maroon are honorary co-chairmen of The Crucible.
“I know from experience how important having a good support network can be when you come home from serving,” said Mr. Bleier, who was stationed in Vietnam after his rookie year with the Steelers. His service earned him a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Veterans, regardless of age, service type, rank or situation, can access the website: www.thecheckpoint.org.
Mr. Souder said he saw the need for Checkpoint while serving as executive director and CEO of Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard for about four years.
“Checkpoint is about making the whole process as easy as it can be and putting the information at their fingertips whenever they’re ready to use it.”
Checkpoint also provides veterans with rating services, a news feed and an events calendar.
“I think there is a tendency among the general public to perceive the veterans population as troubled, sometimes broken people, and my experience is that that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Mr. Souder said.
“There is a percentage of vets that have severe injuries and severe PTSD and really struggle with those things, and we have to have a commitment to them, but they represent a minority of the population. Most veterans are like me and like Rocky. We come back to the community, we’re ready to get involved, and we’re looking for a new purpose.”
The Crucible will take place May 15 through 17, from Johnstown toward Ohiopyle.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1456.
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