SAN DIEGO -- Men and women across the nation bravely serve in the U.S. military, but other battles are often just beginning for them once they return home.
"You can kind of see the buzz behind us -- everybody is kind of getting stoked again, the adrenaline is pumping through," said former San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick. "You don't get this anywhere else except on an NFL field, I imagine on a battle field, or jumping out of an airplane. It's such a great bonding experience, falling through the sky with other people."
Veterans, family, friends and former professional athletes all geared up for "the jump" supporting Operation Jump 22. The "22" represents the number of veterans who commit suicide every single day in the United States.
Hardwick joined former MMA fighter and U.S. Army veteran Randy Couture in bringing athletes together with veterans through Merging Vets and Players.
As Couture explained, vets and players share the difficulties in transitioning back to normalcy. "Obviously there's a mutual respect between the two groups: Vets and players both have respect for each other. Changing that narrative, getting them to a place that they feel safe and comfortable again, getting them working out again -- all of those things have been very, very powerful at the grassroots level, at saving some of these guys' lives."
"Transitioning out of the NFL, I had some really dark times myself," Hardwick said. "You will find yourself going through lulls. And then continue to push, continue to work -- work on yourself with your family, with your support group. There is real happiness on the other side."
The topic is serious, but the day was filled with positivity, excitement and a message of support.
Each skydiver jumped with one person or a group of people in mind. "Cut that 22 a day, let's bring it down to zero," said Operation Jump 22 co-founder Roland Vandenberg. "You are not alone. We all deal with the struggles, the challenges, on a daily basis. We are here for you, for whatever you need. Don't ever, ever feel like that's the answer. You're a fellow brother, fellow sister of ours and you're a part of our family. We are in this together."
"We have each other's backs," Couture said. "Whether it's good or bad, we want to hear about it. You can be vulnerable. You can let that stuff out. We are trained not to, but we are trained not to so our training can be our own worst enemy."
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, don't hesitate to find help at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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Here for a good time, not a long time! 👩🏼🚀🚀 Had a wonderful morning talking with veterans and retired professional athletes about veteran suicide awareness supported by @operationjump22 @mergingvetsandplayers & @gojumpoceanside! Thanks for the fun @rob.w.parker and @puka.luke! (Mini stoke!) 🤪🤘🏼 Story tonight on @fox5sandiego #SPORTSFINAL! #SOSanDiego #OperationJump22 #SendItSD #mergingvetsandplayers