Jun. 24—MANKATO — A North Dakota woman is bringing a pair of military boots along on her trip to Mankato for an inaugural motorcycle run Saturday.
The footwear had been worn by Miranda Schuler's deceased brother, Sgt. Steven Knudson, a military vet who committed suicide shortly after he was discharged.
Schuler and 2 Wheels 2 Heal organizer Loren Files grew up together in Surrey, a small town near Minot.
"Miranda and I were in high school together...her brother was a few years younger than me," said Files, a member of the motorcycle club, Souls Unchained.
Last year, the local bikers' group wanted to do service work for a non-profit, but had not made a decision on what organization to support. Around the same time, Files and his hometown friend were having conversations about an organization that works to prevent veterans from killing themselves.
That non-profit, Mission 22, takes it name from the daily average number of veterans who commit suicide. Mission 22 uses pairs of combat boots to symbolize the lost lives of men and women who served their nation.
"The more we talked, the more I knew the non-profit I could support was Mission 22," Files said.
After completing his research into the organization founded by a U.S. Army veteran who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, Files applied to be its local events' organizer. He completed a screening process and training last fall.
Mission 22 helps vets by providing support groups, as well as gym memberships and help for their families, such as equine therapy. Working with horses is one way people may learn to rebuild trust in others, Files said.
Souls Unchained began several months ago to make signs and flags with messages promoting Mission 22. The club's members decided to sponsor a motorcycle run/fundraiser each June, the month designated for PTSD awareness.
Files' co-organizer James Sommerfield, of Garden City, participated in the recent 15th annual Freedom Run, a motorcycle-classic car parade that also support veterans' causes. He hopes 2 Wheels 2 Heal is as popular.
The line of vehicles that began last Saturday in Madison Lake reached a length of more than 5 miles, said Sommerfield, a veteran from a family representing generations of military service. He said he knows of ancestors who committed suicide after they came home from World War I or Vietnam.
"Veterans have depression and anxiety; it can be overwhelming."
Files said Mission 22 is a proactive program that seeks to recognize conditions that result in suicides. He was trained to not only listen to veterans, but to "hear" what they say.
When someone indicates he or she is having difficulty continuing to live, the organization has a plan in place.
"We don't blow them off and tell them to dial an '800' number. We make that call to the veterans crisis line together."
Mission 22 Public Relations Director Diane McCall said the comradery between those whose service often translates into organized motorcycle runs, including some that support her Oregon-based organization.
Mankato's event is one of four 2 Wheels 2 Heal runs slated for Saturday.
"There's one in Japan, one in Anchorage and one in Huntsville, Alabama," McCall said.
"We think it's awesome. Lots of veterans ride motorcycles and this is one way to reach out to them and let them know we offer support and we have lots of free programs for them."