MILITARY MATTERS: Combat Veteran Hopes to Stop Suicides Through His 444 Mile Run

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 4:25 PM EDT
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NASHVILLE, Tn. (WTVM) - During this Suicide Awareness Month, a combat infantry veteran is taking on a massive fitness challenge to raise awareness, more than a decade after he tried to kill himself.

Phil Parsons, who was once stationed on Fort Benning, is running for more than himself. He started September 20, aiming to mostly run but also walk a total of 444 miles in 11 days. Parsons is hoping to help save the lives of veterans who’ve lost hope, like he did.

Parsons joined the National Guard at 18, went active duty, then deployed to Iraq.

“The air strikes, bombs, shooting, the bodies, a few friends dying or being injured. It didn’t bother me then. It bothered me when I came home,” Parsons said.

Coming back from deployment, he was admittedly angry, fighting his own war with mental health, and suicidal. The last time he tried to kill himself was when he lived in Phenix City. We asked how close he was to ending his life.

“It was close enough that I had a gun to my head,” Parsons said. “I can still feel the coldness from the trigger of that firearm.”

Instead, he took his life back. This former NCO, always focused on taking care of his troops, had to leave the military for awhile to take care of himself.

“(As a soldier) You just put this type of armor on where you don’t show emotions or have them,” he told us.

Looking for an outlet, a desperate Parsons found running, eventually finding happiness. The now-ultra runner is taking on his biggest challenge, calling it the 444, going that far from Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi.

“The Natchez Trace is a 2-lane road, a national park,” Parsons said, talking some about staying hydrated and food too. “I usually do good, every 20-25 miles, eating a PB & J or two.”

You can learn more about the 444 at And donations for the cause can be made at

In the middle of this week-and-a-half journey will be the 16th anniversary of his last suicide attempt. And on that 444 route is a bridge where 40 people have jumped off in the last two decades. Parsons reminds people: hold on, it gets better.

“Instead of trying to block it out, get rid of the pain or discomfort, if i just sat with it for a minute, it’ll change,” Parsons added.

Go to to hear my full conversation with this veteran and runner, where you can also find a link to donate towards the cause of preventing suicides.