By Miranda Briggs
Fight the War Within Foundation crossed paths with the founder of Buddy Watch Walk, John Ring, this past summer and immediately knew that we were going to work together in the future. We had no clue that the future would be so soon or that the impact would be so immense.
The group walked cross-country last year and started a new initiate for 2020: walking 601 miles from Mississippi to the Tybee Pier. They decided to raise funds for Fight the War Within Foundation for the entire mission, raising nearly $10,000 on the endeavor! Their support has been immense and we are beyond blessed for every connection that has been made along the way.
The originals, John, Jimmy, Paco, and Jason, were ready for the final leg of their journey. Over a dozen supporters came out to walk the last several days with the crew to help bring awareness to veteran’s issues like TBI, MST, PTS, and Suicide.
The idea of rucking 18 miles wasn’t exactly thrilling to me when we began planning out the final day for Buddy Watch Walk’s final day, but the meaning behind it is immeasurable and I knew I would be walking it. Somehow, I got roped into rucking the entire distance in full turnout gear- with my airpack and tools. This put approximately 60 additional pounds on my 5’8″ and 115 lb self. We began on December 1st, 2020, and ended on December 3rd.
Of course I agreed, as it was part of the terms and conditions for the Facebook fundraiser for the event. Little did I know how emotional those miles would be. Rucking, apparently, isn’t an accurate measurement for pain.
I don’t talk about this much, but I was a career Firefighter before having Essex. I was 20 years old and 97lbs when I went through EMT school and then fire academy immediately after. It was something I was once very proud of and worked hard to go through additional training like Advanced EMT, Paramedic, HAZMAT Technician, Driver/Operator, Airport Firefighter, and Fire Instructor. As passionate as I was, Garrett was my biggest fan and supporter of my career. He always pushed me to further my education to achieve my goals in the field.
I remember him coming by the fire house to introduce himself/scare coworkers that weren’t enthusiastic about working with females (tan, beret and 6’7″). I remember him being as proud as hell of me at the annual fire ball. More recently, I remember being 9 months pregnant and him coming home from work to ask if I finished studying for my next test, offering to quiz me. As worried as he was about me, I constantly realize how much he masked his own internal war.
As much training we go through to be in the EMS/Fire field, there are always situations that no amount certifications can prepare you for. For me, that was my husband dying by suicide in our home.
Garrett took his life 15 days after our daughter, Essex, was born. I held her in my arms as I called 911 and said my final goodbyes to our hero. The war of reliving that day for the rest of my life will always be a fight for me.
After losing Garrett, I attempted to go back to work as a Firefighter once my maternity leave was up. On that first shift back, we were dispatched to a suicide. I immediately turned my badge in and resigned.
I haven’t touched my gear since…until yesterday.
Putting it on brought back a lot more than remembering the weight of the equipment. It highlighted the symbolic weight that surviving families carry when they lose a loved one to suicide. It brought back the guilt of feeling like I failed my fire crew my resigning, the guilt of not being able to save Garrett, and the guilt of being a grieving and less-energetic mom to our 2-year old daughter than I had hoped to be. I felt weak both mentally and physically and was unsure of the commitment I made to ruck the entire 18 miles.
I didn’t prep or train for this ruck in any way. After the 10th mile, I fell 2 miles behind from the group. I stopped. I cried. I tried to talk myself out of it, then two battle buddies came back for me and refused to leave my side. They pushed me to continue on. Accepting the help and encouragement was the first real step for me, on this journey. Accepting that I am NOT enough to do this alone and that it is OK to reach out doesn’t make me weak- it makes me strong. That is universal.
After 8 hours of bloody boots, bruised hips, locked up legs, and a mental tornado brewing, I finally made it to the Tybee Pier.
As soon as I saw our daughter’s smiling face, I broke down. As much grieving as I still live in from losing Garrett, that moment made me see that Essex is my true hero. She keeps me going, even when I feel like giving up. Her life and her tenacity light a fire in me that cannot be burned out. That light is the part of Garrett that is still here and thriving. It is the light that shines through with every email or phone call from every veteran that reaches out to us for help. And I’ll be damned to ever let that dim.
As we walked to the end of the pier together to end the day, tears poured as I walked by the exact spot that Garrett told me he loved me for the first time, back in 2013.
Approaching the end, I didn’t want to stop. Regardless of how beat up I was, I would have gladly turned around and walked the whole way back if it would have saved my hero.
Anyone involved in this walk is a little crazy for agreeing to ruck for 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, or the last 18 miles. Whatever the distance, all of us had a reason that pushed us to walk.
My reasons were Garrett, our daughter, and everyone that is still here fighting.
Yes, that’s you.
“Surrender is not a Ranger word.” -The Ranger Creed.
You’re not physically here anymore, love, but I’ll walk for you. I’ll breathe for you. I’ll live for you and for those who are still here.
You don’t have to have bloody feet, bruised hips, or strained muscles to have real pain. Being able to connect with other people on how your own pain impacts your life is inspiring as hell, because it reminds us all that no one is alone.
So reach out. Savannah or not, there are great communities around that nation that you can be a part of. Find your next mission and connect.
Fight on, warriors.