The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Penny Merryfield
Pine Bluffs Publisher 

Walking for Vets

Nebraska Native Expected in Sidney Sunday


September 22, 2022 | View PDF

A native of western Nebraska has returned for a special event bringing awareness to Veterans with mental issues and suicides. Jason Hanner will start his “Walk across Nebraska” at the Wyoming/Nebraska border near Pine Bluffs.

Hanner got started back in 2018/2019 with WalkforVets.

“I reconnected with a sailor I served with in Cincinnati where I heard he was involved with an organization building camaraderie with former service members via go-kart racing. A young member of that team overdosed and died. About the same time, I saw a gentleman walking across the country raising awareness and it was time for me to dip my toe in the water.” stated Hanner.

Once John Ring from WalkforVets approached the Dallas area (where Hanner lived at the time), he was going to walk for an afternoon with him, which turned into seven days walking across Dallas/Ft Worth.

“I quickly saw this was a much larger issue than I realized and wanted to help raise awareness. We’re trying to raise awareness for mental related issues that in many cases lead to suicide. MST (Military Sexual Trauma), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are a few issues that can lead to suicide. The more steps I took and the further involved I got, the more I continued to do, including walking from El Paso, TX to Santa Monica, CA and then Jackson, MS to Tybee Island, GA.” Hanner stated.

The purpose of the walks are not meant to be speed races, but take the time to talk to veterans, listen and let them discuss their issues.

“We have such an incredible community and relate to each other in ways civilians can’t relate. I’ve had conversations with Korean War, Vietnam War and War on Terror Veterans that will absolute tear you apart emotionally.” he added. These are things the Veterans live with daily and we have failed this community from a healthcare aspect in many ways. The process is long and tedious, in many ways with denials of service from the VA on multiple attempts, but high prolonged issues causes them to just give up. Covid created other issues, as we closed many outlets with American Legions and VFW halls, taking away their social outlets. Hanner went on to say, “We always told each other if we saved one life, we’d have met our goals…we’ve now been told we’ve saved multiple lives, by simply caring and connecting, so the walks will continue. We walk to bring awareness…awareness and visibility to the issues.”

The outpouring of support from the local community has been just short of extraordinary at this point. “It’s extremely special to be able to start this from my hometown!” Hanner said.

The Walk Across Nebraska starts 8:30 a.m. September 23 at the Wyoming/Nebraska stateline on Highway 30 and he will stay on Highway 30 until he reaches the Omaha area and then will cut across Highway 6.

About Jason: Jason Hanner came into this world on Dec. 24, 1974 in Sidney, to Meryl Hedgecock of North Platte and Donald Hanner of Bushnell. While he was an infant, his family moved to Bushnell. His grandparents were the late Margaret (Bourlier) Hanner and Don Hanner of Bushnell. Hanner would reside in Bushnell through 8th grade, and then moved to Kimball, NE.

He would spend his high school years in Kimball and graduated from Kimball High School in 1993. “I am from Kimball County and it will always be special to me.” said of his years in Nebraska.

Hanner like most seniors struggled to decide the best way to go after high school. “I originally wanted to attend college, but due to family financial struggles, deemed it a better fit to join the military. Both of my grandfathers were WWII vets. On my Moms side, roughly half of the grandkids are veterans (13 of 27).” stated Hanner. My mom’s parents were Velma (Smelker) McArthur and Dean McArthur of Haigler, NE.

Hanner enter the military with his enlistment into the U.S. Navy. He would serve for four years starting in 1993 and ending in 1997. His duties as a Aviation Electronics Technician would lead him away from the midwest and land him in Nevada. “I was stationed at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada with Strike Fighter Weapons Detachment (SFWD). SFWD supported 2 Navy RAG (Replacement Air Group) squadrons with VFA - 106 Gladiators and VFA - 125 Rough Raiders, F/A-18 Hornet squadrons.” he said.

During his stint in the Navy, he would also be part of the Navy Marching Unit known as the Cracker Jack Marching Unit.

Hanner is with girlfriend - Juliet Brown. He has daughters Courtney Hanner (26) of Gainesville, FL and Brooke Hanner (24) Justin, TX Stepdaughters Ashley Brown (22) McKinney, TX and Ally Brown (18) McKinney, TX.

After leaving the military Hanner would become the General Manager for Convergint Technologies with responsibility for state of Nebraska.

“I was recruited from the military to start in this industry, starting as a field electronics technician in March of 1998. I started with Convergint Technologies in January of 2021. I spent my previous 23 years with another company, making Convergint the 2nd company I’ve worked for since military separation.” he said.

Reflecting back on his military tour of duty, he said, “I think most special events in my life are attributed to my military service in one form or another. It was single-handedly the biggest building block to catapult my career today. The group of friends from my time in the military is still intact and communicate frequently due to social media. When I first departed the military, social media did not exist and I lost connection with most that I served with.”

This is not the world today, and staying in touch is easier for most military veterans.

Hanner agreed it was a great direction for him to go.

“The military is a great step for young people to gain real world skill sets that translate into a career post military. Pick something you’re interested in, get the guaranteed school (MOS or Rate)in writing to accelerate your military career,” he said.

“Many young people take the recruiter’s word and end up in a field where they have zero interest or doesn’t help them once they transfer to the civilian world. Pick something that can translate into a real world career post military. Be hungry to learn. Many soldiers, airmen/women, Marines, sailors etc, get wrapped up in extracurricular activities that take away from growth, getting them in or deterring from growth. Many young people don’t realize they could go to a military academy, but it requires congressional appointment. Get good grades through school and stay involved. Being a couch potato will not get you into an Academy or or land you a good job as a civilian.”

“I would definitely join the military again without hesitation,” he added.

Hanner admitted he failed at using the education benefits and regrets that the most.

“Use the education benefit while you’re in (it’s typically free) and grow your intellect as a person. Use the GI bill after you get out and continue growing.” he said.

Hanner is a member of the American Legion Post 10 in Las Cruces, N.M., while his total time in the American Legion is about six years. He is currently doing a trek across Nebraska for Walk4Vets. He learned of the program and with the loss of a friend he served in the military with he joined in 2018-2019. He has done several “walks” which all started out due to losing a comrade from the military.

“I felt it was time for me to step up and help bring attention to what is happening with some of our veterans.” he said.

There are many ways the veterans are affected leading to suicide. MST (Military Sexual Trauma), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and more.

The outpouring of support from the local community has been just short of extraordinary at this point. “It’s extremely special to be able to start this from my hometown!” Hanner said. Hanner lives in Elkhorn, Neb. He takes his Nebraska life seriously and that is why the Walk Across Nebraska is dear to his heart.

The Walk Across Nebraska starts 8:30 a.m. September 23, at the Wyoming/Nebraska stateline on Highway 30 and he will stay on Highway 30 until he reaches the Omaha area and then will cut across Highway 6.


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