Klamath Falls, Ore. – Veterans make up less than 10% of our population, but account for 18% of our nation’s suicides.
NBC2’s Lyle Ahrens has more on a trip being taken by an Ohio man to help those veterans.
Eli Smith got out of the army in 2002, but he’s still on a military mission.
“I am on a journey to all four corners of America, continental U.S.” Explains Smith. “Raising awareness for veterans of PTSD, and veteran suicide.”
Smith began his journey in Florida in November of 2016. “Last year, I walked across America twice, and now I’m on a bicycle for the rest.”
Smith believes his efforts at raising awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are paying off. “I’ve received nine letters so far from veterans that have changed their minds about suicide after coming across my journey.”
This isn’t Smith’s first pass through southern Oregon.
“Love it.” Compliments Smith. “It’s actually where I ran into my first bear last year, on the walk – I went through Medford, and actually ran into a bear in Lithia Park.”
Smith says strangers are often quick to share stories about their military experience.
“Especially from our Vietnam veterans.” Smith notes. “They usually don’t talk about what happened over there. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear a lot of those stories.”
And those stories keep Smith pedaling. “It’s such motivation to keep going – this journey is literally saving lives.”
He hopes to complete his 13,000 mile trek before Thanksgiving next year.
Smith is funding his trip strictly through donations.
KOTI-TV NBC2 reporter Lyle Ahrens moved from Nebraska to Klamath Falls in the late 1970’s. He instantly fell in love with the mountains, the trees and the rivers, and never once regretted the move.Lyle’s job history is quite colorful.
He’s managed a pizza parlor; he’s been a bartender, and a “kiwifruit grader” at an organic orchard in New Zealand. A Klamath Falls radio station hired Lyle in the mid 90’s as a news writer and commercial producer. In 2004, Lyle joined the KOTI/KOBI news operation.Lyle notes with pride that he has a big responsibility presenting the Klamath Basin to a wide and varied audience.
“The on-going water crisis has underscored the fact that the people and the issues in the Klamath Basin are every bit as diverse as the terrain. Winning and keeping the trust of the viewers, as well as the newsmakers, is something I strive for with each story”.
When he’s not busy reporting the news, Lyle enjoys astronomy, playing guitar, fixing old radios and listening to anything by Sheryl Crow.