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Bringing Awareness to Our Veterans One Ruck at a Time

By Barbara A. Preston | May 30, 2024


Rucking is a form of exercise with roots in military training. Basically, it’s walking a set distance while carrying a weight in a rucksack. Rucking (also known as ruck marching) comes from the word “rucksack,” which is a durable backpack meant for carrying equipment. In the military, marching for long distances with a loaded pack is a fundamental training activity.


Marco Laguna (left) of Hillsborough and Dimitra Bairaktaris of Montgomery Township ran the 5K Run with Rotary at Skillman Park on April 27 with 35-lbs strapped to their backs and an American flag, which they shared.


Dimitra Bairaktaris, the Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee Chairperson from 2018 to present, is a U.S. Army Veteran. She’s knows about training and combat, having served during Operation Iraqi Freedom (1996-2006). Bairaktaris completed the Run with Rotary 5K race in Skillman Park on April 27 while carrying a heavy rucksack on her back. So did her friend, Marco Laguna, service officer of the Hillsborough VFW Post 8371 and a Hillsborough Township resident.


Francisco “Doc” Schupp (US Army) and service dog Shadow pose with Claymore Vets founder Maria Salazar (USMC) who holds the Flag as presented to her by SCDC Veterans Caucus Chair Marco Laguna (US Army).


Laguna is also a U.S Army Veteran who served multiple combat tours during Operation Iraqi Freedom (Service Years: 2007-2022) “We are each carrying 35 lbs plus our water,” Bairaktaris said. “That is the Army standard for road marches. The Army also requires that soldiers carry a rifle and wear a kevlar helmet to meet the standard.” For Bairaktaris and Laguna, carrying the extra weight on their backs is more than a form of exercise. “We are carrying the weight for our fallen, for those who can no longer carry a ruck,” she says.


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There are service organizations, such as Ruck for Veterans, aimed at bringing awareness to Veteran mental health issues. It originally focused on children of fallen service members, according to www. ruckforveterans.com. Then, in year two, it focused on veteran suicides because the average daily suicide rate continues to climb. In the third year, we focused on Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. Years four and five, the organization targeted The Special Forces Foundation and Green Beret Foundation. Ruck for Veterans is an official 501c3, accepting donations that go directly toward veteran causes.


Bairaktaris, in her role as Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee Chairperson, stays busy organizing the annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day events for the township. In addition to these duties, she participated in a Memorial Day Ruck that Laguna organized to raise funds for a Veteran organization.


Somerset County Commissioner Director Shanel Robinson (USAFR) holds a flag as SCDC Veterans Caucus Chair Marco Laguna (US Army) and Raritan Democrats Chair Pablo Orozco (USMC) complete the Flag Ceremony at Memorial Park in South Bound Brook, NJ.


The 8.6-mile ruck commenced in Raritan at the Basilone Statue, passed through Somerville, Bridgewater, Bound Brook, and concluded in South Bound Brook at the Memorial Park. The Somerset County Democrats Veterans’ Caucus organized the second annual Memorial Ruck through several communities in Somerset County on Sunday May 26.


Led by Laguna (US Army) and Pablo Orozco (USMC), the event aimed to bring attention to the critical mental health crisis affecting veterans while raising funds for the Somerset County Based Claymore Vets. Claymore Vets founder Maria L. Salazar (USMC) and numerous supporters joined the march.

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