By Staff Sgt. Christopher Jackson
Imagine burning between 9,000 and 11,000 calories a day, running an average of 30 miles and sleeping in a tent the majority of the time. That is what Dustin Johnson, a Navy Veteran and Lambert, Missouri, native is doing in an effort to bring awareness to military veteran suicides. Johnson visited with service members and families at three locations throughout the Kaiserslautern, Germany military community this past December, including USO Stuttgart.
Johnson served in the Navy as a plane captain, being recognized by his carrier air group as Sailor of the Year. He is currently nearing 6,000 miles of more than 16,000 and attempting to become the first American to run around the world, according to World Runners Association. Johnson is seeking to break American and world records during his journey, while dedicating a more than 400-mile segment to the service members of Stuttgart and Ramstein.
“The January [run] from Stuttgart to Berlin is strictly for this community,” said Johnson. “The funds we raise for Stop Soldier Suicide are for these communities that are stationed here.”
Stop Soldier Suicide is a nonprofit organization that serves all service members, veterans and family members from every branch and every generation, regardless of discharge status, according to their website. Johnson became a spokesman for the organization after attempting to take his own life in early 2019. He decided after that it was an opportunity to help others in similar situations.
“It’s a sign, your body didn’t give up,” said Johnson recounting a conversation with a medical doctor after his suicide attempt. “Now, go use it for something worthwhile.”
Running around the world was something that intrigued Dustin for many years, but the decision to run and bring attention to veteran suicides came shortly after speaking with the doctor.
Johnson has experienced tribulations throughout the first half of his run, to include an encounter with three jaguars in Argentina and being hit by a truck in Chile. He sustained minor injuries, ruined his cart and slept in freezing temperatures while in South America.
“It was like 3,000 miles into the journey and that was the moment I found myself,” said Johnson. “As much as it was bad, I know what I am capable of, and nothing is going to get me like that anymore.”
The world record run attempt from Stuttgart to Berlin, set to begin New Year’s Day, will take approximately six days. Johnson will have minimal help along the way due to strict rules involved with the world record. The goal is to run, break records and bring plentiful attention to what service members experience during and after serving.
“I think civilian individuals need to take the responsibility to help the one percent of individuals who sign up,” said Johnson. “If there is somebody who is thinking about it, I want them to reach out to me.”
How the USO Helps
Johnson’s visit to service members at USO Stuttgart was especially poignant, since just a few hours up the road, the USO supports wounded, ill and injured service members who are recuperating at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Beyond the USO’s usual services of providing activities, WiFi connections and home-cooked meals, the USO Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany also serves as a source of comfort and home away from home for recuperating service members.
The morale-boosting efforts of the center and its volunteers have continued to make a profound impact on the lives of service members struggling with both visible and invisible wounds, just when they need it most.
-This story originally appeared on DVIDShub.net on January 1, 2020. It has been expanded and edited for USO.org.
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