- - Thursday, February 8, 2018

Thom Tran considers himself lucky.

As an Army special operations sergeant in Iraq, he was wounded in a 2003 firefight by a sniper’s bullet lodged in the base of his skull. He bandaged himself, completed the mission and returned to the U.S. in 2005 to be medically discharged from the only career he had ever known.

And today?

“I tell jokes about getting shot in the head,” said Mr. Tran, 38, a stand-up comic/musician based in Los Angeles who credits his new career with his successful transition to civilian life. “Most veterans don’t get to do something like that. It means so much to me.”

That is why he is participating in GallantFew’s Run Ranger Run event.

Every February, the nonprofit GallantFew organizes a monthlong challenge for people to walk, run, hike, swim or crawl around their neighborhoods to raise awareness for the group’s mission in helping veterans re-enter society. Teams of up to 10 people pledge to cover a combined 565 miles over the month’s 28 days.

GallantFew pairs “guides” with other veterans who have not made the transition to help them process back into society. The one-on-one relationships provide outlets and havens for sometimes traumatized veterans that their families or civilian friends can’t fathom.

“Combat vets, we don’t want to talk to people. Our families won’t understand us. Our friends won’t understand us,” Mr. Tran said. “But we really have to talk to people. That’s where the transition begins.”

GallantFew founder Karl Monger said the inspiration for Run Ranger Run comes from Cpl. Cory Smith. The combat veteran left the Army in 2011 and ran on foot back home to Indianapolis from Fort Benning, Georgia — 565 miles in 28 days — to reunite with his wife and his daughter. His wife had told him he could be either a father or a Ranger, not both, Mr. Monger said.

“He realized he was biting off a pretty big project, and he asked if we could help him with it,” said Mr. Monger, a retired Army major.

Mr. Smith’s run gained media attention, Facebook followers (north of 1,000) and donations to help him complete the journey.

The name was inspired from a classic line from “Forrest Gump” — “Run, Forrest, run.” The goal isn’t just to raise as much cash as possible. The event reminds people how critical it is for veterans to heal from their emotional wounds.

“It’s an awareness event to get people’s attention and educate them on what we see as a common-sense solution,” Mr. Monger said. “It’s not another piece of junk mail asking for money. We don’t want to be that organization.”

Now in its sixth year, Run Ranger Run gives participants the flexibility they need to participate. That, in turn, showcases what it means for veterans to connect to their peers at a critical time in their lives.

“When somebody leaves the military, they have very high hopes. They believe their future is bright, and they’re not somebody who needs help,” Mr. Monger said. “We know from personal experience the things they’re going to encounter six to 12 months off of active duty.”

The stress of finding work, recovering from injury, continuing an education and reintegrating into rhythms and routines of civilian life can be intensified by post-traumatic stress disorder and other maladies that can befall veterans. According to a 2016 study by the Veterans Affairs Department’s office of mental health and suicide prevention, about 20 veterans a day took their own lives in 2014.

In its mission, GallantFew will pair Marines with Marines, for example, to ensure each party has a better understanding of what the other has experienced.

“I’m not a Marine,” Mr. Monger said. “When I have a conversation with a Marine, I’m less effective than a Marine would be.”

Mr. Tran said people are starting to realize that the military can teach men and women how to fight in wars but is less-skilled in “teaching us how to pick up dry cleaning or going to the grocery store.”

“There’s no training module once you get back from a deployment. It’s all paperwork,” Mr. Tran said.

Ron O’Ferrall recalls hitting rock bottom three years ago. The former Army Ranger suffered a major job crisis and had to move in with his in-laws. He began drinking more and sank into a depression. He got involved in a three-car collision. No one was hurt, but the accident served as his wake-up call.

Before that, he hadn’t reached out to the veteran community. The accident changed that. It was why he became part of GallantFew’s Run Ranger Run program. The reminders of what can happen without veteran support are everywhere, he said.

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