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Grand Forks airman runs almost 700 miles for military PTSD awareness

An airman stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base who ran at least 22 miles every day in June to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder crossed the finish line early Thursday morning.

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An airman stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base who ran at least 22 miles every day in June to raise awareness for post-traumatic stress disorder crossed the finish line early Thursday morning.

Staff Sgt. Brendan Brustad ran 694 miles in 30 days. He did most of his running on the base, but the last five days he spent running from Winnipeg to Grand Forks Air Force Base.

The 22 miles he ran each day represented the 22 veterans estimated to commit suicide each day by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. While in Canada, Brustad ran 54 kilometers a day to recognize Canadian veteran suicides.

Brustad is an experienced ultrarunner, a runner who participates in races longer than the traditional 26.2-mile marathon, often 50- or 100-mile races. This September will be the 10th anniversary of his first marathon. Since then, he has run so many that he's lost count.

Recently, Brustad has shifted away from races to focus on running for a cause. When he was stationed last year in Missouri, he ran to raise money for victims of the 2011 tornado that devastated Joplin, Mo. Soon after he finished that endeavor, someone mentioned he should run to raise awareness for veterans with PTSD.

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"That just stuck a chord, me being a service member myself," he said. "You hear about PTSD and vets that are struggling, suffering."

After planning for a couple of months, Brustad had it worked out. He woke up at 3 a.m. every day to run so he could report for duty on time. He said he was tired a lot, but thinking about what veterans with PTSD go through every day made it easier.

"That was the driving force, that this is nowhere near compared to what's going on with them," Brustad said. "And to do it for them and to bring awareness to the cause and to bring light to the issue, it just feels very important that our veterans are taken care of."

Feedback from veterans who had experienced PTSD also kept Brustad going.

"When the word kind of started to go out about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it and everything, I had a couple of people come up to me and say, 'Hey, when I came back from the desert, I was a little shell-shocked for a while, so thank you for what you're doing,' and that just added fuel to the fire," he said. "I was just like, 'I know I've got to follow through with this.'"

After Brustad started his month-long run, his co-workers jokingly began calling him Forrest, referencing the movie character Forrest Gump who ran across the country. He eventually started using the hashtag "FORUS" because he was running for those who serve.

Brustad said he plans to continue to advocate and work for veterans as long as he serves and even after he's no longer in uniform.

"My No. 1 focus in life is making an impact where it means something to others," he said.

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Despite some wind, he said he was happy to feel strong enough to push through and finish Thursday.

"I want to say I'm glad it's over, but I don't want it to be," he said. "You know what? Call it the end of this endeavor (and) the beginning of a new one."

To view Brustad's fundraising pages, go to www.canadahelps.org/en/pages/veteran-running-for-veterans or fundraise.fisherhouse.org/proudsupporterevents/Fundraising/individual/31319560.

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