A squad of long-distance military runners are on a cross-country campaign to help teach civilians how to interact better with veterans.
Their battle cry: Charging civilians to go beyond the usual "thank for you service."
The group is made up of University of Delaware ROTC cadets and two freshly-minted Army second lieutenants. They call themselves Team Reviresco, Latin for renewal.
"Too many veterans feel like their sacrifice wasn't worth anything, because no one seems interested in what they did," says the team's co-founder 2nd Lt. David J. Dinerman. "The problem is, most civilians don't know how to start that conversation."
Operating out of a converted school bus that operates as their rolling home and support station, this is the third major cross-country run they've done since forming the group three years ago. Most of the miles are covered relay-style, with runners swapping out about every five miles.
He says the group runs to draw attention to the need, but also to actually teach people along the way.
They stop at everything from high schools and universities to inner-city community centers and even military installations.
"But often some of our best interactions are just with the people we meet on the side of the road," Dinerman says.
For their current expedition, they launched from Ground Zero in New York City on June 3. They're on track to make the 1,400-mile trek to Miami by June 24.
They'll be in Orlando on June 21 to show support for the community there by giving blood.
The 22-day timeline is intentional, a way to call attention the 22 veterans who kill themselves every day, according some suicide rate studies.
"I remember meeting a veteran during a Reviresco bike run we did from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg. He had lost both legs in an IED explosion. He told us he had been about to kill himself when some random civilian came up to him and started asking him about where he'd served," says Micah Petersen, a senior at the University of Delaware and co-founder of Reviresco.
"No one had ever done that before. He said that simple conversation literally saved his life."
Drawing from hundreds of interactions like that with veterans and active-duty troops over the past three years, the Reviresco runners say the group is in a unique position to act as ambassadors between the civilian and military worlds. It's all about helping bridge what some the "military-civilian divide."
"Maybe we're not the perfect people do this, but at least we're trying to do something," Dinerman says.
Of course, when it comes to talking to veterans, the best many civilians muster is often an awkward "thank you for your service."
"What are you supposed to say to that?" says Army paratrooper Capt. Jeff Swierzbinski. "Usually, you just thank them for thanking you, which just feels kind of weird."
Adjutant for XVIII Airborne Corps' 27th Engineer Battalion based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Swierzbinski is also a graduate of the University of Delaware himself and heard about what Reviresco was doing through the alumni network. He invited the runners to stop by the battalion to talk with troops as the team made their way down the coast.
"They came by and gave a little talk to three of our companies and then did PT with us," he says. "It was good for the troops to hear about what they're doing and also realize they need to be willing to engage conversations like this. If we really have a desire to bridge this military-civilian gap, we need to bite the bullet, even when it's not convenient or comfortable."
For civilians, say the Reviresco runners, the advice is simple: Ask questions such as "Where were you stationed?" and "What did you do?" And steer away from the even more awkward questions like "how many people did you kill?"
"They're in the perfect position to execute a mission like this," says Swierzbinski. "As cadets, they're not fully civilians anymore and not fully military yet, but they've done their homework and really understand how to help bridge this gap."
Jon R. Anderson covers all that's fun, fascinating, and formidable about military life, from off-duty travel and entertainment to family and fitness. He can be reached at email@example.com.