Army Captain Justin Fitch is dying. He has Stage IV colon cancer and doctors have told him he only has a few months to live. Fitch has lost 55 pounds and much of his digestive system.
When colon cancer reaches stage IV, or metastasis, the chances of survival drop under to 10% because in stage IV the cancer has already spread to at least one more organ, usually to the liver first, and then to the lungs.
But even before he was even diagnosed with diagnosed with colon cancer, Justin Fitch had thoughts about killing himself. Fitch, like thousands of other soldiers, was suffering. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had killed his friends and broken his spirit. That happens to too many combat veterans, and then the VA throws them under the bus.
When Fitch joined the Army he was immersed in a culture of suffering in silence, “Mission first. Never worry about yourself. Better death before dishonor.”
But Fitch had reached the breaking point, so he took a gun, put it to his head and was about to put 4.5 pounds of pressure on the trigger to put a bullet in his head and end it all. But at that moment he heard the voice of a dead comrade.
When things got bad during the war, his buddy would always say “drive on.” And that’s what he heard his dead buddy saying to him that day. So Fitch put the gun down and sought help.
When things got bad, his buddy would always say “drive on.”
Fitch also realized that while he felt alone, he wasn’t the only one with that feeling. Fitch, an active-duty Army Captain, put it this way, “When I learned that 22 veterans are killing themselves every day, I was just blown away. I knew that was something I wanted to get involved in.”
Instead of taking his life, Fitch decided he would devote his life to saving others. Even after undergoing six surgeries and 50-plus chemotherapy treatments, Fitch has committed himself to the Carry the Fallen group.
Fitch, a native of Hayward, Wisconsin, has served more than nine years as a soldier, including a tour as an infantry officer in Iraq and another tour as a personnel officer supporting special forces troops in Iraq.
Fitch uses his personal brushes with depression, combat stress and suicidal thoughts to fuel his work for the nonprofit Active Heroes and its ‘Carry the Fallen’ campaign
When Fitch realized that about 8,000 veterans per year commit suicide, he decided to do something about it
Fitch says, “It’s hard to understand what the cause is and the solutions, but I believe very strongly in the route I’m taking,”
Fitch has participated in a series of ruck sack marches to benefit Carry the Fallen, the first ruck march was in November 2013, and Fitch was ruck-marching 10 miles to work twice a month before his medical condition forced him to stop.
In all, his ruck march team, Team Minuteman, has raised $112,000, and he has raised about $60,000 personally to benefit Active Heroes. The money helps veterans fund home repairs and — specifically through Carry the Fallen — will help build a retreat for veterans and their families.
For $5 million, a 244-acre farm in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, will be transformed into the retreat. Fitch envisions a day when families will be able to enjoy its tranquility, with a petting zoo for children and an archery range.
Cancer has ended Fitch’s days marching the entire way, but he plans to ride in the command-and-control vehicle, shouting encouragement.
Fitch’s goal now is to see the retreat in Kentucky finished before he dies. “This is my final mission as a soldier,” he said, “And even when I actually do get medically retired from the Army, I am going to push this mission until I can no longer physically do anything.”
The next ruck march in Rochester is on November 8. Registration, donation information, and information about ruck marches in other areas is available online at carrythefallen.org.
Ruck Up Carry The Fallen – Rochester, NY
Team Leader: Liz DaMico firstname.lastname@example.org
Regional Cadre Contact Info: Justin Fitch email@example.com
Click Here to Join the Team
Click Here to Communicate With the Team on Facebook.