ROWLETT, Texas — Like many servicemen and women who return from war, retired Army Staff Sergeant Gabriel Kanawite didn’t hit rock bottom. He fell further.
“I believe I went all the way to the Earth’s core,” Kanawite said. “I attempted completing suicide twice.”
It’s a hole he thought he’d climbed out of until two of his brothers, both veterans themselves, ended their own lives.
“That darkness kind of seemed to creep back in just a little,” Kanawite said. “And I could hear it almost tapping, tap, tap, ‘hey, I’m still here. And I said, ‘man, I need to do something about this, and I need to do something quick.’”
Kanawite already knew about a place called the Veterans Resource Outreach Center, or VROC, in Rowlett.
“Thousands of veterans take their life every year,” VROC director Brian Wilburn said. “We wanted to do something.”
Wilburn said statistics claim 22 veterans and first responders die by suicide every day, but he said that number is really much higher.
That’s why, once a month, VROC walks across Heroes Memorial Bridge to raise awareness and try to rescue veterans from the brink of suicide. Kanawite told WFAA that’s exactly what it did for him. He hasn’t missed a walk in three years.
Thanks to the walks, Kanawite is doing much better now. He is determined to help other veterans, especially those from the American Indian community he grew up in, who are still suffering.
Just by walking across the bridge, VROC said at least nine veterans have been saved from suicide. The bridge may only be a mile, but these veterans have come a long way.
“It’s just become that place of healing for people,” said Wilburn.
Walk the Bridge has expanded to multiple states and other countries around the world. Wilburn told WFAA there’s no telling how many more veterans have been saved.
Kanawite said he’ll keep walking so anyone suffering from PTSD doesn’t have to run from the pain and suffering that haunts them.
“Not only have I regained a purpose, it doesn’t feel so lonesome anymore,” Kanawite said.
Trauma can seem insurmountable. However, making the journey across the bridge together makes it possible because it’s more than just a walk... it’s a good first step.
For more information on Walk the Bridge, visit https://www.walkthebridge.org/.