NYPD Mounted Unit officers will escort veterans along a 20-mile stretch through Manhattan via horseback on Saturday to bring awareness to the problem of increased military suicides after skipping last year’s event during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s great for everyone’s morale that we’re getting back to normal and that we can actually see each other again and do these events,” Deputy Inspector Barry Gelbman, commanding officer of the New York Police Department’s Mounted Unit, said, according to the New York Post. “I know that they were very disappointed last year.”
Dubbed the “Trail to Zero,” the event recognizes that 20 veterans, on average, commit suicide every day. The objective of the ride is to bring that figure to zero, according to officials.
Riding his NYPD steed Fantan, Gelbman will be among 12 officers who will accompany six veterans and two support riders from the group BraveHearts, “an equine program meant to aid veterans with their transition back to civilian life,” The Post reported, adding that BraveHearts is the event’s sponsor.
Gelbman said he feels like horses have a calming effect on nearly everyone, which is why he is involved in the ride. “Anyone in a high-pressure occupation de-stresses when they’re around animals,” he told the paper.
Most NYPD officers who take part in the event or volunteer to assist along the trail are veterans themselves or still-serving members of the military.
Included in the group is Lt. David Monzon, 40, who is a U.S. Army sergeant first class and who served in Iraq in 2009. Riding a horse named Montana, Monzon said he was looking forward to welcoming other veterans back as he takes part in his third year with the BraveHearts event.
He told The Post that camaraderie of men and women veterans and officers involved with the ride makes for a “good bonding experience,” while going on to note that riding the 20 miles is “very comforting.”
“I would say the easiest part of my day is riding a horse. You can forget all your problems,” he noted.
According to Gelbman, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks also weigh heavy on the event.
“The significance of New York City is that the September 11 attacks were the catalyst for a lot of these veterans who enlisted in the military,” he said, according to The Post.
“So for them to ride to Ground Zero and back to Central Park is very significant,” he added. “A lot of them never were in New York City, it’s their first trip here, and to actually go down and see the memorial and see the Freedom Tower is, you know, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.”
Meggan Hill-McQueeney, president and chief operations officer at BraveHearts, said reaching out to vets is also part of what the event is about.
“Trail to Zero, as a mission together, brings a community of veterans together with a like cause, a like mindset to reach out and to save their brothers and sisters who are in situations that maybe they once were,” she told the paper.
In addition to veterans, the NYPD has also seen an increase in suicides among its members in recent years. Officials believe the ride is helpful to the department’s officers as well.
The Post said that in a typical year, four to five officers commit suicide every year, but the number rose to 10 in 2019, prompting a response from the department.
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