On March 27th, over 150 veterans gathered in Jacksonville Beach, Florida for the FIRST Jax Beach Silkies hike in history. Over a 9 mile hike, veterans came together for the ultimate mission - prevent Veteran suicide with humor, camaraderie, and connection.
The hike started in Jackonsville Beach, with the first stop being the new Veteran memorial that was moved to its new location this past year. Hikers wound through downtown Jacksonville and down Neptune Beach for some stunning views and relentless shenanigans. Every stop was at a different local gem that welcomed the hike with open arms. The local flavor for the hike was strong, just like the camaraderie.
There were too many memorable moments in this hike to list - but we're going to mention a few of our favorites.
Our National Anthem singer had to call out the morning of the hike. So, the hikers sang the National Anthem together in unison. You want to talk about some goosebumps. That's what this is all about, folks.
Cpl Tyler Southern, Veteran and triple-amputee, was the speaker to kick off our hike. He told his own story, and ended with the most powerful statement any Vet can hear - "Remember that YOU MATTER."
The hike was hot. Damn hot. But hikers lucked out with a visit from the local fire station who brought a truck out to the end of the road to promptly hose down hikers about 95% of the way through the hike.
Much needed after a stop at CrossFit box Black Hive - where we witnessed some pretty powerful moments of strength and friendship. We're talking amputees coming together to help each other flip tires, knocking out pull-ups, and competing for most muscle-ups. You know Vets - never miss a chance to do beast stuff.
We considered dubbing this hike the "reunion hike", because we witnessed SO many reunions between Vets who had not seen each other in YEARS. Warriors that had served in combat zones overseas, guys that went to boot camp together almost 30 years ago. One hiker Matthew Reeves, reunited with family friends from Rota, Spain that he hadn't seen in over 30 years.
There were so many smiles, claps, and cheers everywhere we went. People stopped to take pictures at almost every leg of the route. We just could not have asked for a better response to a group of loud, boisterous Veterans donning ridiculous outfits and showing off way too much thigh (in the best way possible.)
The mission of Irreverent Warriors - and of every Silkies Hike - is to bring veterans together to make connections and grow their support system. To quote a new hiker -
"Motivating, Inspirational, Honored, and proud! Meeting people that had
issues like mine - but stories that were vastly different, joining in a common
bond! These people I met are not friends, they're family now. An experience
I will NEVER forget."
- IGY6 Richard Hall, USN
Massive thanks go out to a few local businesses and organizations that were a huge help in making this hike what it was.
Lemon Bar in Neptune Beach shout out to this local gem for making us feel welcome at our stop along the way!
Lynch's Irish Pub in Jacksonville Beach - shout out to another great local spot that welcomed us with open arms.
GoRuck HQ - who sponsored our last stop with free drinks and a bench press. Do they get Vets or what? Naturally, some (healthy) competition ensued.
Greater Beaches VFW 3270 - This hike would NOT have been possible, or nearly as incredible, without the help of this organization. They lent us their post for the weekend for both our pre and post-hike setup and served as the standing point for the entire hike. Special shoutout to their post commander Rich Possert, who was an outstanding host and more accomodating than he needed to be. We look forward to working with you all again next year!
And a special thanks to all of our sponsors who contributed to making this hike what it was:
Veteran Television (VET Tv) our 2021 National Presenting Sponsor (thanks for that free pair of Silkies to give away at the hike, too!)
ArdentX - a local transportation and logistics company that was a huge sponsor.
The Evans Family & Publix - for sponsoring our lunch
First Impression Services - provided a ton of Gatorade for a bunch of thirsty vets on an unseasonably hot day. Thank you, thank you!
One more huge shout-out to a ton of local donors who's contribution took the day to another level. Thanks to:
Chick-Fil-A for the 150 Chicken Biscuits
Krispy Kreme for the 10 dozen Donuts
Starbucks for morning coffee!
Mission BBQ for their donation to offset our lunch costs
Who Made it Possible
Ryan McAbee- Lead Coordinator
Britt Zicarelli- Volunteer Coordinator
Nick Sawall- *honorary shoutout for strong-arming Ryan McAbee into local coordinator status for Irreverent Warriors.
JOIN THE DEBAUCHERY
We're looking forward to a MASSIVE event in Jacksonville Beach next year - with anticipation of over 400 hikers. If you want to get involved with next year's hike or other events throughout the year, reach out to Ryan McAbee directly on Facebook, or join the IW- Jax Beach Facebook group. Spread the word - attend a hike - DONATE! Over 97% of IW proceeds go to the actual mission. Not to brag- but that's pretty
much unheard of in the nonprofit world. Just sayin'.
One Shared Missiona
VET Tv is the proud National Sponsor for Irreverent Warriors in 2021. In addition to a $25,000 donation matching initiative, every ticket to an IW Silkies Hike comes with a free month subscription to VET Tv.
***Blog Photo Credit*** The photos used in this blog are photos collected from those shared by hikers, coordinators, volunteers, and attendees of Silkies Hikes. If you'd like individual credit for a photo that shared, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can accredit it.