MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — State leaders and student veterans groups are kicking off Operation Iron Ruck in the lead-up to the Iron Bowl. The goal is to end Veterans’ Suicide.

Starting Wednesday, student veterans from the University of Alabama and Auburn University will ruck from Tuscaloosa to Auburn to put an end to veterans’ suicide.

They’re putting rivalry aside to spend three days rucking 151 miles, all while carrying 22-pound rucksacks. That’s to recognize the 22 veterans who die by suicide each day nationally.

“Operation Iron Ruck not only raises awareness for the struggles of veteran suicide but sends a resounding message to our fellow veterans that they are not alone,” University of Alabama Campus Veterans Association President Jordan Golden said.

Veterans from both universities came to the Capitol to kick off the event and hear Gov. Kay Ivey proclaim Wednesday Operation Iron Ruck Day.

“Amidst this display of unity, we cannot overlook a harsh reality. We lost 143 veterans to suicide in 2021. That number is far too high,” Gov. Ivey said.

The ruck also raises money and collects care items for various veterans groups — including Three Hots and a Cot, which helps homeless veterans, and the Bill Nichols State Veterans Home in Alabama.

But there are other ways to help, too.

“Pull out your cell phone and send a message to a veteran today. Say, ‘Hey, you know what, I’m with you. I care about you. I’m thinking about you,'” Auburn Student Veterans Association President Drew Lufkin said.

To donate to this year’s ruck, head to the website.

The ruck finishes up Saturday at Jordan Hare Stadium ahead of the Iron Bowl. Student veterans will join football players and hand off the game ball to officials.