By Kathleen E. Carey, Delaware County Daily Times
UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Among the participants at Saturday’s Walk for the Wounded was a team representing one of the travesties organizers hope to combat.
Team Always Faithful raised over $1,800 for Operation First Response in honor of James Kalitz, a U.S. Marine and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who commit suicide Aug. 31.
“His loss has broke the hearts of all who knew and loved him,” Peggy Baker, president of Operation First Response said. “Through his own struggles, he continued to serve his fellow veterans in many ways.”
Among those he left behind were his three daughters, ages 6, 9 and 11, and their mom, Kelly Tees, who was given a portrait of him at the event.
Afterward, behind the stage, she wiped tears from her face.
“I don’t think you can put the pieces back together,” Tees said, although she said she’s trying to do so for her daughters.
She said veterans could use more support from the Veterans Administration and the community.
Another Iraqi Operation Freedom veteran J.B. Daniels, who’s had fellow service members commit suicide, talked about it.
“Suicide among veterans is an epidemic,” he said. “In 2012, 6,500 veterans committed suicide. In 2013, the VA did a study that covered the years from 1999 to 2010, which showed that 22 vets a day commit suicide.” Baker agreed.
“Thanks to advances in medical technology and battlefield medicine, more of our men and women are surviving combat,” she said. “However, once home, they are struggling with the wounds of battle — visible and invisible, which can contribute to the risk of suicide.
“The suicide rate among our warriors has reached unprecedented numbers,” she continued. “In 2013, statistics show that U.S. military suicides exceeded combat deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a daunting fact and we should all get involved in the fight.”
Baker urged attendants to reach out to veterans they know.
“You need to ask the hard questions,” she said. “You need to stop and listen and care for that person by taking action and finding them the help that they need. You never know what kind of impact you might have just by being there for them.”
Daniels reinforced that by sharing his experience with the Blue Spaders, 26th Infantry Regimen, in which a contact roster was created and members reached out to each other.
“Every day, we know where each Spader is or can be reached in case of need,” he said.
He encouraged veterans to reach out to each other.
“Through social media, we recommend you contact your battle buddies, get out there, find out what’s going on, get to know them again,” he said. “It’s been years, you may have to reconnect, get to know them. That way, you can identify the stressors and the different warning signs that PTSD and suicide presents.”
Walk for the Wounded organizer Nick Constantino said Operation First Response continues to care for soldiers who had wounds in 2004, including those who have PTSD.
They anticipated that they would surpass the 1,500 walk participants from last year.
In addition, Constantino said the run had 228 runners, compared to the 86 in last year’s inaugural event, and that a companion run was held on a military base in Kabul, Afghanistan in which 84 military members ran and was skyped into the park.
He was pleased that the attendance was probably the most ever at any of the walks.
However, he was saddened that more couldn’t have been done to help Kalitz, whom he considered to be a good friend.
Constantino said he was aware that the Marine struggled with PTSD, but was surprised with what happened.
“It was a total, total shock to everyone,” he said. “He was a tremendous father and a wonderful husband and a wonderful friend.”
In 2012, the American Legion in Glenolden held a beef and beer for his family to raise funds to replace their van that was damaged in an accident. After collecting $12,000, they went to Videon Chrysler Dodge Jeep, where the family was given a 2004 Dodge Caravan.
“Unfortunately, in the end, my worst regret is that all that we did do for them wasn’t enough to save his life,” Constantino said.
He urged any vet to contact his organization just to talk, no commitment required, just to talk.
“It’s a long-term solution to a short-term problem,” Constantino said of suicide. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Anyone with questions may reach the organization at walkforthewounded.org.