Veteran crosses country to raise awareness

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Jimmy Novak took a break in Hardy as he makes his way walking across America to raise awareness for veteran suicide.
Lauren Siebert

On July 7, Jimmy L. Novak, a man walking across the country to raise awareness for veteran suicide, made a pit stop at the Spring River Draft House in Hardy.

On March 22, Novak began his journey leaving from Dupont, Wash. with the goal to walk 22 miles a day to symbolize one mile for each veteran who will take their own life.

“I started on the 22 of March and I am going to finish on Aug. 22 at Disney World in Orlando. I’m aiming for 22 miles a day to recognize the 22 veterans who die by suicide [daily]. That number is not scientifically accurate, but people get wrapped up in it. It doesn’t capture everybody and it fluctuates from year to year, but the point is, veterans have twice the propensity compared to non-veterans to die by suicide,” Novak said.

While at the Draft House, Novak took time to sit and visit with patrons of the establishment, many of whom were veterans.

“I don’t have a solution to the problem, but I’m out starting conversations and meeting as many people as I can as I make my way out to the southeast,” Novak said. “I served 21 years in the Army in the Chemical Core Branch and was an MOS 74 Delta Chemical Operations Specialist, but the last half of my career I spent on special duty assignments.”

Novak served as an instructor, and later went to work for the embassy in Saudi Arabia before being assigned to work as a recruiter for the Army.

When asked why he chose to champion veteran suicide awareness as his cause, Novak said he had been directly impacted by the topic and felt it was a worthy cause.

“I am an anxious depressive, I don’t have a PTSD diagnosis, but the Army didn’t see fit to diagnose me with that. For the last half of my career, I had a lot of issues with anxiety and depression. I had two major episodes where I was really wrestling with suicidal thoughts myself. I finally sought help after about 13 years of suppressing my emotions,” Novak said.

Novak explained he decided to seek help, but prior to that point, had suppressed his emotions for fear of how he would be seen or how it could impact his career.

“I didn’t want anyone to know I had issues. The first time around was during my combat deployment in Iraq in 2004-2005. I was having the issues and was aware. The Army was telling everyone if we needed help to get help and that it was a sign of strength not weakness to seek help, but I was in a support role in an infantry company and I didn’t feel like the things I’d seen and been exposed to, justified the emotional response I was having. I didn’t want them to think less of me and was worried about the stigmas associated with it,” Novak said.

In the mean time, Novak said he was experiencing frequent night terrors, developed a plan for suicide, had the means and had been rehearsing the act.

“I was basically just waiting for whatever my trigger was to say ‘now’ and that would be it. Fortunately that didn’t happen and the crisis passed. Another time I was really struggling was when I was recruiting. My command climate started out okay, but became toxic while I was there. I felt like it was very personal and I didn’t really respond to that well,” Novak said. “I was a bad recruiter and didn’t really do a good job putting people in the Army but I think a lot of that was because I was emotionally shut off.”

Although he may be walking the journey by himself, Novak said his wife has been very supportive of his journey.

“She’s been supportive from the very beginning. I threw out the idea and what it was, was I wanted something to mark my retirement. I wanted to do something big for my retirement and I’d kicked around a few other ideas, but I came to the conclusion a cross country walk would be amazing because it would give me time to reflect on the journey I’ve been on, the struggles I’ve overcome, where I want to be next, but I don’t want it to be all about me, I wanted to give back,” Novak said. “Based on the struggles I’ve had and the fact I sought help, I found therapy to be very beneficial to me. I want to encourage others to seek help early.”

Novak said when he sought help, he did not receive the backlash he had feared in regards to his career.

“They [work] were pretty much like, ‘okay, so you’re going to the doctor. Keep your appointments, take care of yourself, remember your responsibilities and do what you’ve gotta do’. They didn’t ask what my issues were because they knew if I wanted to talk about it, I would,” Novak said. “I want people to know the road to recovery is a journey and is achievable. Just put one foot in front of the other and you will get there. Seek help early and the stigmas they may be worried about, may not be actual real world fears.”

Although Novak stopped to visit in Hardy, he said it would be a brief visit as he needed to continue on his journey. To follow Novak, learn more about his story and become a part of the journey, visit www.jlnovak.com.

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