Veterans were undeterred by damp, cold and wind Saturday morning when they gathered for an annual hike to bring attention to the high suicide rate among their brothers and sisters in arms.

The eighth annual Galveston Irreverent Warriors Silkies Hike began at attorney Mark Metzger III’s Hacienda courtyard, 2519 Market St. in downtown Galveston. Before the start, attendees braved the cold with music, food and morning libations.

Many attendees donned “silkies,” GI slang for government-issue physical training shorts, as they traveled from downtown to the seawall and back. Other attendees embraced an ‘80s theme, including Metzger, who wore a blonde wig, fanny pack and a neon pink onesie over yellow spandex and pink thunderbolt earrings and carried a toy machine gun.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpt. Donny O’Malley and Sgt. Ryan Loya launched the Silkies Hike in San Diego in 2015 through Irreverent Warriors, a nonprofit veterans support group.

It was known as 22 — referring to a 2012 Veteran Affairs study that found 22 veterans die each day by suicide. The organization is based on the idea that humor and camaraderie can save lives. O’Malley and Loya started the hike after losing friends to suicide.

“We are here to honor the 22 who will not see tomorrow and make sure they are not forgotten,” Metzger, a Marine Corps veteran, told the crowd. “There is treatment and therapy available. But the camaraderie is that therapy for many of us. There is support for you. You are not alone and your problems are not that big.”

Marine Corps veteran Jason Hamrick, who helps coordinate the event, credits Metzger with saving his life.

“I was at rock bottom and contemplating taking my life, when Mark reached out to me and told me about the event and I decided to give it a chance,” Hamrick said. “He really saved my life. I missed the brotherhood of the service.

“You get the chance here to laugh and joke around. It pulls you out of darkness and helps veterans transition to the civilian world. Humor helps us with our trauma and we are able to put the negativity behind us.”

“Many veterans have a hard time talking about our feelings,” Bell said. “But at these hikes we can enjoy our dark humor and we don’t feel judged.

“We aren’t able to choose our blood family, but this community chose us and they become your family.”

Original Story: