20210622 Veterans Walk 0004.jpg

Cliff Williams / The Outlook Greg C. Washington and his 14-year-old son Grant walk along Girls Ranch Road Tuesday.

Greg C. Washington almost committed suicide. Now he is walking 1,800 to promote suicide awareness especially among veterans and youth.

Tuesday Washington and his 14-year-old son Grant were walking the backroads of Tallapoosa County. Washington is already 54 days and 500 plus miles into his journey to West Point, NY.

“Along the way we are spreading the word about suicide prevention, breaking down the stigmas when it comes to mental health and getting help because of the increased rate of suicide among our veterans and youth,” Washington said. “Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst our youth and the rates are increasing among our vets.”

Washington was a freshman at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point when the Twin Towers came down on Sept. 11. After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and seeing some of his ‘battle buddies’ perish along the way, Washington returned home. Washington struggled with survivor's guilt and was contemplating taking his life.

“I was almost one of those 22 veterans that died that day,” Washington said. “If it wasn’t for my little cousin calling me in the middle of my darkest hour, I might not be here.”

A simple phone call from the cousin wanting to go shopping brought Washington on a path of recovery. It was the moment Washington needed, someone reaching out to him even though they might not have known it at the time.

“You look at it from two sides, the outside looking in to support by checking in on a friend or family member or battle buddy just to say, ‘Hey are you doing OK?’” Washington said. “That phone call could save a life. On the other side you have to realize what is going on and reach out for help.”

Help can come in a multitude of ways. It could be friends and family reaching out. The random phone call could stop a would-be suicide victim. Those contemplating suicide should realize help is available from churches, counselors and through medical services.

Washington started his walk in Mount Bayou, Mississippi, a special place to him especially given its struggles.

“That was my safe place,” Washington said. “When I was dealing with PTSD and complicated grief, I would go there to unplug. What I found out was Mississippi had a rich history when it comes to being one of the first official black towns in the U.S. to be recognized. When I started to learn about the history, I understood there was more than just pain and suffering, but there was strength, there was grit, there was resilience. The same attributes a person needs to save themselves in the darkest hour. It is one of those messages we are trying to spread and pass along.”

Washington has been joined by his father Greg Washington on the journey. He says 15 of Washington's West Point classmates have joined him at points of his already 500 mile journey. Stops are planned in Washington’s current hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“We are going all 1,800 miles to West Point where I graduated from,” Washington said. “We are just chatting along the way hoping we can reach out to whoever to talk about sucide prevention and mental health.”

More about Washington’s journey to promote suicide prevention can be found on his website at gregcwashington.com/a-walk-to-honor.

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.