49 down, 1 to go: Man raising veteran suicide awareness in all 50 state capitals

A whirlwind tour for a worthy cause.

Twenty-three thousand, two-hundred and twenty-two miles will take you nearly around the circumference of the entire planet. It’ll also take one military veteran to every U.S. state capital as he seeks to raise awareness and money for the veteran suicide crisis present in America’s servicemembers.

And he’ll do it in just 50 days.

Darren Hafford is nearly at the finish line right now, with Juneau as the 49th capital — and capitol — he’s visited, doing 50 pushups in front of each, in under two months.

“I want veterans — or anyone who’s suffering — to seek help,” Hafford said in an interview on the steps of the Alaska State Capitol in downtown Juneau on Saturday afternoon. “It can change a life, it can save a life.”

Hafford served in the Marine Corps in the ’90s, and later in the Army National Guard as a military policeman and public affairs specialist, he said. The idea of doing pushups to raise awareness for veteran suicide — a number of trends emerged in the last decade on the theme of 22 — but Hafford said for a time he’d do 44, to reflect the nature of his two-branch service history.

“About a year ago, I decided to do 50 pushups in front of 50 capitols,” Hafford said.

After postponing for a year due to the pandemic, Hafford began on the Fourth of July in Austin, Texas.

“I wanted to do the hardest drive first. It was 16 hours to Phoenix,” Hafford said. “Texas was so long to get through.”

After losing the vehicle’s air conditioning during the first day, Hafford said, a mechanic in Nevada fixed it for free after hearing about the goal of the drive.

“The first 16 states were more driving than the other 32 combined,” Hafford said. “The second part wasn’t so bad.”

After his vehicle briefly broke down while in the Northeast, Hafford was able to push through and make it back to Dallas, including involvement with preventing an attempted kidnapping in Topeka, Kansas. Hafford aims to wrap up the tour in Honolulu on Sunday. Hafford said he intends to put together a book and a documentary on his experience.

“I’ve got thousands of photos and hours and hours of driving,” Hafford said. “I don’t know if the audience needs 15 hours of West Texas.”

The funds he raises will go to the One Tribe Foundation, formerly known as 22Kill, which was a veteran suicide awareness organization that expanded its remit to all first-responder communities.

“I heard more stories (about veteran suicide) than I really wanted to hear. It’s a lot more common than you think,” Hafford said. “I’m hoping we can drive down that number. My concern is that we may see that number increase for the next six months to a year because of Afghanistan.”

And where was his favorite of all 49 he’s seen so far?

“The most beautiful capitol was Iowa, which surprised me,” Hafford said.

Want to help?

To read more about the fundraiser or to donate, visit https://50statecapitolsin50days.com.