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National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Soldiers Fight the Battle of Stigma

iraq nami walks

Photo credit: SPC Camarada, flight medic.

The 3rd Platoon War Gods, Baker Company, Task Force 1-15 Infantry, 3d Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq. Front row, left to right: SGT Matthew Clark (Texas), SSG Tomasz Ratuszny (N.J.), SPC Justin Sack (Texas), SPC John Bell (Calif.), SGT Salem Auclair (R.I.); back row, L-R: 1LT Mike Thomas (Ga.), SPC Eric Finley (Ga.), SGT Phillip Crum (Fla.), SPC Jeff Yarrow (Utah), PFC Clinton Winslette (Ga.), SPC Scottie Grimes (S.C.), SPC Nathan Peterson (Mo.), SSG Ryan Davison (Pa.), SGT Otto Bankston (Tenn.), PFC Ross Adams (Texas), SFC Oracio Pena (Texas). Not pictured: SSG Warren Cash (Va.), SSG Chris Armstrong (Fla.), SGT Michael Sumner (Ga.), SPC Xavier Valles (Mass.), SPC Josh Gardner (Calif.), SPC Kevin Swain (Calif.), PFC Asa Woodfin (Texas), PFC Chris Bergdoll (Calif.), PFC Gordon Black (Ill.), PFC Ben Groat (Ga.)

A U.S. military platoon in Iraq will be holding its own event to correspond with the NAMIWalk in San Diego on April 17, 2010, 11 a.m. EST (that's 1900 hours in Iraq). While some NAMIWalk participants move at a more relaxed pace, these military men and women will be running their course in full body armor.

April 17 is the same day NAMI San Diego is holding its annual fundraising walk. NAMI San Diego's Annie Dunlop has invited John Bell, a Specialist in the U.S. Army, to NAMIWalks before.

For the past two years, Bell has been deployed in Iraq and unable to attend. This year, however, Bell decided he wasn't going to miss out, so he organized a 5K run to be held in honor of the NAMI programs designed to help veterans such as the Veterans Resource Center (VRC), an online portal to mental health resources for America's veterans, active duty service members and their families.

"Education is the first step, and NAMI has decades of experience and is truly a subject-matter expert," said Bell. "I've experienced PTSD myself, so I know how many service members feel."

"As the U.S. Army has taught me, not all wounds are visible," Bell said. "…Many [service men and women] still suffer the effects of having endured life in a combat zone. The most prominent effect is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Not every combat-deployed soldier has been in a firefight, had a vehicle struck by an IED or even lost a friend by an enemy engagement, but the trauma they endure is nonetheless significant to them."

SPC Bell, his platoon and other soldiers will be running to support NAMI, which they know is an organization that can help soldiers with mental health issues when they return home. NAMI San Diego will certainly be thinking of these men and women while hitting the pavement on home turf at Balboa Park on the morning of April 17.

For more information on the NAMIWalks program, visit www.nami.org/namiwalks. You can sign up for NAMI San Diego's NAMIWalk at www.namiwalksandiego.org or by calling (619) 398-9854. If you are interested in supporting the run in Iraq, please visit www.nami.org/namiwalks10/SDC/JohnBell

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