Novak walks to advocate suicide prevention
As Thursday marked the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, former Army Veteran Jimmy Novak, is walking his way through the United States in honor of those that have served for their country. Novak's motto is "Saving Veterans lives, one step at a time", and reflects on how many lives are now being lost to trauma, rather than combat.
Novak started his walk on March 22 in Dupont, Washington where he lives, and plans to finish his return on Aug. 22 in time for his birthday. He recently made his way through Beloit on May 29 and had totaled 1200 miles on feet and 700 miles in a car, due to weather issues forcing him to detour in several areas. Novak's route includes Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia with his destination ending in Florida.
"I have ran into some snags with closings from rock slides, water, tornados and such and so had to be driven to areas," said Novak. "My goal is to walk 22 miles a day. I have had some 30 mile walks and will have walked 37 miles from Beloit to Miltonvale as my longest walk yet on this trip."
Novak's reason for his walk is to advocate for those Veterans that are suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair, there are 18.2 million Veterans in the United States. With those numbers, an average of 22 veterans die each day from suicide. In Jan. of 2013, an estimated 57,849 (12 percent) were homeless and 20 percent of vets that served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic disorder.
Novak grew up in a Navy family environment that moved around a lot. After high school he married his wife Heather in 1995. From there, Novak began his basic training in the Army in January of 1998. He served as a Sergeant 1st Class for 21 years of service with three overseas assignments.
Novak suffers with his own issues stemming from when he was deployed to Felicia in 2004.
"My job was to listen to the radio, making sure the commanders maps were correct," said Novak. "We were moved north to meet a parent unit. Shortly after, units were hit by a suicide bomber. That day, 23 soldiers died. I have had a lot of survivors guilt as I was only minutes from it. It was during the holidays and we had been watching Christmas movies and such. Every soldiers response is to run towards the incident, but I had to stay with my position on the radio. I had to hear everything going on through airwaves, hearing descriptions of casualty reports on the radio. At this point, I started having nightmares and such. I didn't know how to deal with it and I didn't tell anyone I was struggling."
During Novak's recruitment period to Iraq, he had experienced anxiety and mental problems that kept recurring.
"I was probably clinically depressed but didn't want to express so," said Novak. "My mind spun with things in my head, nightmares, suicide ideas. I also had a plan and rehearsals for suicide as well."
Novak's entire career was served as a Chemical Operation Specialist, MOS 74D. He was sent to Germany two times, Sadia Arabia one time and was deployed to Kosova. He was deployed to Iraq two times from 2004-05 and again in 2007-08.
Novak's first assignment after joining the Army was to a decontamination exercise in Hanau, Germany. While there, he was deployed to Kosovo to provide security for general officers and such. Novak went on to train in Styrene-butadiene Chemical Biology for an infantry company until 2001-2006. During a second deployment they picked up his unit and moved them to Germany during 2007 where he served for 15 months. He later became an instructor at a Chemical School House at Ft. Leonard Wood.
Novak served in the Chemicals Operation Specialty field, taking care of defensive measures such as using protective mask, garments, and passive defensive measures like covering food if an incident occurred in Hazmat situations.
"Fortunately, we never experienced that, which is good," Novak said.
When sent to the Embassy in Sadia, Arabia in 2012-13, Novak was selected as a recruiter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
"I worked in a generally negative climate while I was there," said Novak. "At that time, I was trying to drink myself to death, looking for medication to take with drinking as to not wake up. I called my branch manager and went back to the joint base in Loius, Washington, where I then retired,"
Novak remembers his wife saying he was showing personality changes, nightmares, and didn't like loud noises during his time of deployments. He is not diagnosed with post-traumatic disorder, is not medicated, but instead has one on one sessions with a therapists.
"Being able to verbalize, be up-front and honest, has helped me," said Novak. "Seeking treatment and talking about past experiences has been adequate therapy for me but I know others have gone forth on their plans of suicide."
"I have had my own struggles and through this walk, it has been very beneficial for me. The people I have met are very therapeutic for me."
The most important point for Novak was that he sought help.
"I found out what the Army said was true," Novak said. "If you are having a problem, seek help. This is a sign of strength. They were ok with me getting help as long as my work was done. If I had a solution for what I am advocating for, it would be for struggling Veteran's to get help. Veterans are dying everyday. If I had the answer I would be out solving the problem. But this is my way to help those along the way."