Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Participants of the Shepherd's Men swim from the Fallen Five Memorial at the Tennessee River Park to Ross's landing wait to touch ground after getting onto their support boat on Friday, May 28, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Participants in the weeklong Shepherd's Men Run, Ruck and Swim that came through Chattanooga Friday hope to raise awareness and funds for a program that helps veterans with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder escape the downward spiral that claims the lives of so many servicemen and women.

When their seven-day journey is complete, the 10-member team known as the Shepherd's Men will have traveled through seven cities, collectively running, rucking (running with weights) and swimming more than 1,000 miles.

Each wears a 22-pound vest during the event to symbolize the 22 veterans who take their own life each day, as well as to represent the physical and mental burden veterans carry with them after leaving combat.

Their goal is to raise $1.2 million for the SHARE Military Initiative, a program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta that treats veterans of post-9/11 conflicts who leave combat with traumatic brain injuries or PTSD.

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Jarrad Turner, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, is a 2012 graduate of the SHARE Military Initiative and started running with the Shepherd's Men the following year as a way to give back, he said.

When he returned home from combat, he was unaware of his traumatic brain injury and PTSD.

"Even though I was a medic, that's just not something that we discussed at that particular period of time," Turner said as he stretched before the run. "When you're taught to always suck it up, to always push forward, always drive on, you don't want to be that individual who is going to be perceived as holding anybody down, especially yourself."

His Veterans Affairs medical provider convinced him to seek treatment through the SHARE Military Initiative. The provider candidly told him the VA was unprepared to deal with the invisible injuries of this generation of soldiers.

Each participant begins the SHARE program with a two-week assessment, after which their team of doctors and therapists tells them what injury they have, how it likely occurred, why their previous treatments didn't work and what they can do to heal, Turner said.

Gary Herber, a graduate of SHARE and an army veteran who served in Afghanistan in the 10th Mountain Division, said he does the Shepherd's Men run because if it helps just one person find out about the SHARE program, it could save a life.

"I'm not a hero; I was just lucky enough to survive," Herber said. "I lost heroes; I have friends who are heroes. It's up to us now to carry their legacy and to make sure we live our best life, because they can't."

The SHARE program is free for participants, including an apartment where they and their families can stay while they are in the program.

"All you have to do is step up and say 'hey, let me take this assessment,'" Turner said. "[SHARE] is not just life-changing, it's life-altering."

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