MILITARY MATTERS: Former Marine in Auburn Takes Us Inside Operation Iron Ruck to Help Local Vets

Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 5:54 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

AUBURN, Ala. (WTVM) - Student veterans from Auburn University and the University of Alabama completed Operation Iron Ruck this week, an annual event designed to help local vets.

“You’re carrying all your water, food, sleeping bag, everything you own on your back and that can weigh up to 80 to 100 pounds,” Operation Iron Ruck Coordinator Clayton Buchanan said.

That’s veteran Clayton Buchanan describing his military combat load while rucking during his 4 years in the Marine Corps. Now, he’s a senior at Auburn University where Buchanan is president of the Auburn Student Veterans Association, gearing up for one of their biggest events.

The Iron Bowl football game is the finish line of the 5th annual Operation Iron Ruck. It started Wednesday morning in Auburn. Student vets from both A-U and the University of Alabama marched from there, 151 miles to Tuscaloosa.

“It’s a continuous movement, 24 hours nonstop, other than Thanksgiving. We do stop to have a Thanksgiving potluck meal,” Buchanan said.

Dozens of participants carry 22-pound rucksacks filled with donated items that the students will deliver to homeless veterans shelters in Tuskegee, Birmingham, and other cities along the way.

“Toiletry items, socks, underwear, deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner...stuff other homeless veterans can’t get on their own,” Buchanan added.

Operation Iron Ruck event is also about raising awareness for how to prevent veteran suicides. The number of pounds they’re rucking with means something.

Buchanan told us, “22 veterans a day take their own lives, the national average. The numbers that have come out recently moved down to 17. We’ve kept that 22 as symbolic, we don’t want to forget our brothers and sisters.”

Those in the ruck will also carry 22 blank dog tags. Retired infantry rifleman Buchanan says there are misconceptions about opportunities being plentiful post-military, with some vets ending up on the streets, some so lost they commit suicide.

“When you get out of the military, it’s intense, kinda scary, it’s unknown where to be, what to wear, what to do,” Buchanan said. “Getting out and not really having a sense of purpose or direction, so some veterans can definitely get into a bad spot.”

“Just make sure they know they’re cared about. It doesn’t have to be anything military-related, just keep them in mind all the time, keep talking to them,” he added

To hear my full conversation with this former marine corpsman, go to He talks about rucking, fitness in and out of the military, helping other vets, and more on the latest episode of “Run the Race.”