A high school football coach is honoring our veterans this 4th of July by marching around the Kern Veterans Memorial for three days straight.
Marc Sandall grew up in Bakersfield and now lives near Paso Robles. Sandall hopes his trek in Kern County will raise awareness about veterans' mental health issues and their high suicide rate.
As we celebrate our nation's birthday on July 4th, Sandall is walking for our wounded warriors. "I think we are not taking care of those who are taking care of us," he explained.
Sandall isn't a veteran himself. He used to send care packages to our troops overseas, but he wanted to do more.
Iraq war veterans Jeremy Staat's and Wesley Barrientos' cross-country adventure from Bakersfield to Washington D.C. inspired Sandall to find another way to help. "I said there's gotta be something a little guy like I can do," he said.
On Tuesday, Marc started his three-day walk around the Kern Veterans Memorial in downtown Bakersfield.
"It just shows the mission we started is starting to take root. It's exactly what we wanted," said Staat, an Iraq War Veteran.
As Sandall finishes each lap, he is reminded of the reason he is on this journey. One out of every two veterans waits longer than 50 days for a mental health evaluation. Each day, 18 veterans commit suicide.
"We need to do our part collectively to say, 'hey come on back, you're a hero and we want to take care of you'," continued Sandall.
Former Marine and Vietnam veteran Chuck Bikakis spent 14 years working at the Kern County Veterans Service Department.
"It's not acceptable. I guess you could say that's the way the system is, it's the government. The procedure is inefficient. Someone needs to take a look and say why does it take us so long to process a claim," said Chuck Bikakis.
Even though Sandall's feet are ready to give out, he keeps walking to help those who keep us free. "I want to take them off and put new ones on," he noted. "I know there's an end to this, and someday I hope there's an end to our vets' situation."
Sandall is encouraging people at the memorial to sign letters to lawmakers, asking them to speed up the counseling and care process for our veterans. He will be at the Kern Veterans Memorial on Truxtun Avenue until Thursday night.
If you know a veteran or a veteran's family member that needs help, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, at 1-800-950-NAMI.