After serving their country, many veterans come home to the war within. On average, 22 veterans, active-duty service members and National Guard members and reservists die by suicide daily, according to a news release.

That jarring number inspired Kyle Butters, a veteran from Pasadena, to create the 22 Miles to Break Boundaries running event to honor soldiers who have been lost to suicide, as well as to support mental health and suicide prevention programs for active-duty members and veterans.

Butters, along with five other people, will run a total of 44 miles. The three-day event starts Friday, with the first lap at 4 p.m., and there’s a community celebration on Saturday. Liberty Military Housing will host and sponsor the celebration at Annapolis High School with games, music and food trucks, according to a news release. There will be a 2.2-mile Hero Run, starting and ending at Annapolis High School, in which participants of all ages can run, walk or bike to raise awareness. Participants around the country can participate virtually. The event takes place during Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.

“After my time in the Army and experiencing mental health challenges of my own, and losing my own soldiers to suicide, I really wanted to find a way to do something to raise the awareness, but also to build a community,” Butters said.

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Butters started the event several years ago, when he had the idea to do a running challenge. A friend asked him what the purpose was of running so long. After finding his Infinite Hero coin, Butters decided to run 22 miles to honor those veterans who lose their lives to suicide.

He served nine years in the Army and was a platoon leader. He runs two days to honor soldiers from his platoon that died by suicide while deployed in multiple countries in support of the global war on terror, Butters said.

Butters partnered with Infinite Hero Foundation to bring this event to life. The foundation connects military, veterans and service family members with treatment programs for service-related injuries and suicide prevention, according to its website.

“More than 30,000 veterans of the post-9/11 conflicts have died by suicide, deaths that could have been prevented with adequate mental health support,” Butters said in a statement. “I run knowing that with each step, the money raised will go to support the brain health and suicide prevention programs that are at the heart of the Infinite Hero Foundation’s mission.”

One of the biggest challenges that veterans face when they leave the military is a lack of community, Butters said.

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“You have built-in brothers and sisters. You have built-in best friends. You have a common mission. You have something that all of you are working towards collectively, and then all of a sudden, you leave that and it’s very hard to replace,” Butters said. “It’s very hard to find that in the civilian world, even among friends. It’s not quite the same as what you experience when you’re in the service.”

The event isn’t only to raise awareness about PTSD and mental health, but to show veterans are still strong when they leave the military.

“[There’s] the image of the veteran that comes out with physical injuries, mental health issues, PTSD, whatever it is, and then they’re just kind of this broken person,” Butters said. “And I’m fighting back against that and showing that no, even once you get out of service, you can still get back to your community. You can still be a leader, you can still physically perform, you can still push your limits.

Philip Rizzo, an Infinite Hero Foundation board member and CEO of Liberty Military Housing, served in the Army and he believes raising awareness is important, but that more should be done.

“The Infinite Hero Foundation shares Cpt. Butters’s passionate support for our nation’s military, and we aim to serve them with the resources that they need to live physically and mentally healthy lives, both during and after service,” Rizzo said in a statement. “Together, we strive to break boundaries and act as a catalyst for positive change for our nation’s heroes.”

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If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 to contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Correction: This story has been updated to correctly state when the running begins.

Royale Bonds attended Southern Illinois University. Go Salukis! She previously worked as an affordable housing reporter in Greenville, South Carolina. Royale enjoys long naps, snacking and endless scrolling on social media. She looks forward to reporting on Anne Arundel County and covering the stories that matter.

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