March to remember fallen, help vets

Retired Army Sgt. Andy Springer, of Edinburg, kneels next to the grave of Army Pfc. Thomas R. Wilson, of Maurertown, who died in combat in 2007. Springer is holding a photo of Wilson and below that is Springer's friend, Army Cpl. David M. Fraise, who died in Afghanistan in 2004. Springer is leader of the Active Heroes Team Shenandoah, which is organizing an event on June 20 to remember fallen soldiers and help those who have returned from war. Rich Cooley/Daily

On June 20, a “Carry the Fallen” ruck-march in Woodstock will remember fallen soldiers and help battle suicide rates among veterans.

The first of its kind in the Shenandoah Valley, the march through nonprofit organization Active Heroes will begin at 9 a.m. along the track at Central High School to help raise funds for the Military Family Retreat Center planned for a 150-acre property in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.

The retreat center will provide resources for veterans in crisis and their families, said Andy Springer, 34, a retired Army sergeant and Active Heroes Shenandoah Team leader.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said.

Every day, 22 American veterans commit suicide for a combination of reasons that Springer said includes symptoms of trauma, few support systems and a loss of hope.

Retired Army Sgt. Andy Springer, of Edinburg, shows his tattoo marking the graves of his nine Army buddies who were killed in combat. Rich Cooley/Daily

It’s an “overwhelming feeling,” he said, empathizing with fellow veterans following his own experience with the Army in Afghanistan.

“I had a really rough time coming back from war and I didn’t know how to deal with the loss of my friends,” he said.

Springer did have a good support system and after retiring in 2010 from eight years in the Army eventually found his way back.

“I’ve been able to get my life together by myself, but it’s taken me seven years,” he said.

“It does help me to be involved with Active Heroes.”

As a team leader, he said he counsels veterans struggling with substance abuse or other issues, sometimes just letting them talk.

“Bottling things up aren’t the best way to go about doing it,” he said.

Fairfax and Hampton also host “Carry the Fallen” events, as do Washington, Baltimore and Annapolis, Maryland.

“Nothing like this has ever been done for veterans out here, and it just needs to be done,” he said.

“I’m hoping that a lot of people come out,” Springer said.

Participants may choose to walk for three, six or 12 hours, or simply come out and support the cause. Registration is free and includes a fundraiser Facebook page where participants can rally support. Those who raise $100 will receive a “Carry the Fallen” patch for the number of hours they march at next Saturday’s event.

The event will honor all fallen soldiers, though Springer said he especially wants to honor his best friend, Cpl. David Fraise, of Louisiana, who died from the detonation of an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2004, and former Woodstock resident Pfc. Thomas Wilson, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007.

“I care about it ’cause I am one of them,” said Springer, an Edinburg resident and 1999 Central High School graduate.

“We’re trying to lead people in the right direction. I just think we can make a difference.”

For more information, visit the Team Shenandoah — Active Heroes on Facebook, go to https://activeheroes.org or visit the team’s webpage at http://preview.tinyurl.com/nofl2mj

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com