By Senior Airman Tara R. Abrahams, 940th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 09, 2017
Silkies Hike participants pose for a photo Oct. 21 in Bakersfield, California. The hike brought veterans for a 22-kilometer ruck march through town to bring awareness to the 22 veteran daily suicides. (Courtesy photo by Susumu Uchiyama)
Lt. Col. Susumu Uchiyama (left) poses with two veterans during the Silkies Hike Oct. 21 in Bakersfield, California. Uchiyama is the 940th Mission Support Group deputy commander at Beale Air Force Base, California. (Courtesy photo by Susumu Uchiyama)
The 940th Mission Support Group deputy commander was among 35 veterans who hiked 22 kilometers Oct. 21 to raise awareness about veteran suicide.
“We wanted to remind the public about the 22 veterans dying every day,” said Lt. Col. Susumu Uchiyama, a Bakersfield resident.
The length of the “Silkies Hike” was in reference to a 2012 Veteran Affairs report that estimated the number of veteran deaths by suicide to be an average of 22 per day. That has since dropped to 20 per day, according to a 2014 VA report.
“Silkies” are small military physical training shorts and were worn by some participants. Veterans were also encouraged to don military shirts and combat boots, and carry rucksacks weighing either 22 kilograms or 22 pounds.
"Twenty-two (kilometers) was actually harder than I thought it would be," Uchiyama said.
The native of Japan is a 15-year Air Force veteran who served in the Army for 10 years prior to that. He was one of two Airmen to participate in the hike. The majority of the group consisted of Army and Marine Corps veterans.
“They were a great bunch of people,” he said. “We had great team cohesion.”
The Silkies Hike, hosted by the Kern County Veterans Service Department, was also meant to build positive community relationships. The veterans caught downtown Bakersfield’s attention as they traveled through the city in formation, carrying U.S. and military flags, and wearing GI clothing, Uchiyama said.
“It was really fun. They’re a bunch of jokers… but they still carry military attitudes.”
Veterans kept the hike lighthearted as they marched through the town. A few danced through the formation and, when someone started to fall behind, they encouraged them to stick with the group.
As a traditional reservist, Uchiyama works with the Air Force part time. When not in uniform, he works as an analytical lab manager.
“I try to participate in veteran activities as much as I can,” he said. “I encourage anyone who gets a chance (to do so) because it’s a chance to get to know people and build camaraderie.”