By Kristi Garabrandt, The News-Herald
Army Sgt. Joshua Geartz receives a police escort along Wilson Mills Road in Chester Township during his 422-mile journey from Indiana to New York to raise awareness of veteran suicide. Kristi Garabrandt — The News-Herald
U.S. Army veteran Joshua Geartz is on a 422 mile mission called 422 for 22 to raise awareness of veteran suicide and other issues pertaining to members of the U.S. Military.
To raise funds and bring awareness to the issue, Geartz, who is wheelchair bound, is riding his wheelchair from the American Legion Post #31 in Angola, Indiana, to the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo, New York. The journey which started May 27 is expected to be completed June 25.
His journey took him though Geauga County with a stop in Chardon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on June 5.
Geartz, who as a sergeant served as a member of the military police from 1999 to 2004, was wounded by an improvised explosive device in 2003. He sustained multiple injuries including blood clots, spinal stenosis, traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, and partial paralysis in both legs, according to a media release by Jessica Redden of the Bohlsen Group.
As a result he is only able to walk very short distances and deals with chronic pain on a daily basis.
Geartz who said he was on the brink of suicide himself in 2014, has learned that the lives of approximate 22 veterans a day end in suicide.
When asked what he thought drove him to consider suicide, Geartz responded: “I think it was a big mix of things, but ultimate it was because I started think I was a burden to my family and the people around me. I thought they would be better off and have a better life without me.”
He also attributes survivor’s guilt, having to take the lives of others during combat, and all of the medications he was on as driving forces behind the suicidal tendencies.
Geartz has previously said that, “Everything was just so overwhelming. It came to a point when I had to admit that I wasn’t able to care for myself or my son. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I had been through therapies, programs and other treatments, but nothing seemed to help.”
He also notes he suffered from multiple seizures, and that due to all the medications, there are two years of his life he hardly remembers, including the first year of his son’s life.
“I was able to get on the medical marijuana in New York State and get off of 17 medications and lose 200 pounds in two years and have had zero seizures,” he said during his stop in Geauga.
It was then he started to experience some clarity.
“It was almost like waking up from a coma and realizing what was going on around you. It’s like being back,” he said.
Geartz said he stills struggles and the thoughts of suicide are still sometimes there, but he isn’t making any plans.
“I’m definitely better then I was,” he said.
Geartz believes that most veterans like himself are hesitant to reveal any suicidal thoughts because of the concern of what other people will think of them or what they did.
“Are they going to look at you the same if they start hearing the stories of what you went though,or are they going to start looking at you differently,” he said.
He notes that he then questioned if he let people know he was thinking that or reaching that point would he always have that label, would he always be the guy who was suicidal with everybody hovering around.
Geartz is now on a mission to raise awareness that is OK to ask for help.
“Part of why I’m doing this is to let them know, look, I’m putting this out there and nobody is treating me any differently, the only difference is I got way more support than I ever did,” he said.
Also undertaking this journey helps detract him from his thoughts about it.
“I’m getting messages every night, I had a lady tell me I saved her life from doing this by putting this song and this story out there,” he said. “If I help just one person by doing this, than it is worth it.”
Even though as he said he is just sitting in a chair for the most part, the journey is a lot harder then he thought it was going to be, but also he will see it through to the end.
Geartz is riding his chair 422 miles at a pace of 22 miles a day to raise funds through donations along the route and on-line for the programs he attributes to helping him bounce back: SongwritingWith:Soldiers and Team Red White and Blue.
SongwritingWith:Soldiers pairs a soldier with a famous songwriter and the duo then writes a song together.
Geartz worked with songwriter Mary Gauthier with whom he co-wrote “Still on the Ride,” a song about the loss of a friend and also in which asks the questions do you go to heaven if you kill someone in combat or do you go to hell.
Geartz performed his song with Gauthier at the Grand Ole Opry’s 90th anniversary celebration in 2016, according to the media release.
A year later he returned to the SongwritingWith:Soldiers program to serve as a peer support person.
He hopes by helping to raise funds the programs will continue to impact veterans for years to come. Currently he has raised over $14,500.
For more information on the event, visit Facebook.com/422FOR22. Donations can be made directly to SongwritingWith:Soldiers www.songwritingwithsoldiers.org or Team Red, White & Blue www.teamrwb.org on behalf of 422For22.
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