Air Force Reserve Captain Jamie Brunette is described by friends as a vivacious athlete with a huge smile who loved people and loved to run.
Malia Spranger, an Air Force Reserve colonel, served with Brunette, was her friend and business partner. They were going to open a fitness center together in March.
But Brunette, an Afghanistan War veteran, took her own life February 9, 2015.
“She was (like) a daughter to my husband and I,” Spranger said. “She is obviously terribly missed by so many people out there.”
Jamie’s “raspy laugh” is what her roommate, Heather Milner, misses most.
“The way I remember Jamie is being super goofy. She was always dancing around and smiling and laughing. Like, every day was always a good day,” Milner said.
Milner was among the dozens of friends, airmen and community members standing outside the main gate at MacDill Air Force Base to honor the war veteran and support “The Run for Jamie.”
The solo run from Tampa to Key West was the idea of former Army Ranger and Gulf War veteran Alex Estrella, 56. Although the Tampa resident never met the promising young airman, Brunette’s suicide inspired him to do the 405-mile run to honor her, raise awareness about veteran suicide and post-traumatic stress.
“For those vets out there that may be suffering or something, speak to someone,” Estrella said just prior to starting his journey May 21, 2015. “Hope is a key word for me and God willing I’m going to finish this run for Jamie.”
Wearing combat boots, a 40-pound rucksack and escorted by Tampa Police volunteers, Estrella left MacDill hoping to make it to Key West in eight days. Within a few miles, the 90 degree temperatures forced him to change into running shoes and shed the rucksack.
Checking in with Estrella at the eight-day mark found him walking alone on Tamiami Trail about to turn south to Homestead just over halfway to his goal.
Hampered by the heat, blisters and cramping muscles, Estrella chuckled when asked if he considered abandoning his quest.
“I have 22 reasons why not to give up and those of course are the 22 vets a day that take their lives,” Estrella said.
According to the Veterans Administration, 22 veterans on average commit suicide every day. And that number only reflects those in the VA system. Those who have never used VA, along with active-duty military, reservists and National Guard are not included.
Despite his first chase vehicle having to turn back and getting only a couple of hours rest each night, Estrella continues.
Midday Thursday, he optimistically estimated that he will reach Key West on Sunday, May 31, 2015.
In addition to honoring Brunette, Estrella also hopes to raise the visibility of two organizations helping veterans, Hope for the Warriors and the Elk Institute for Psychological Health and Performance.
Veterans can get help by calling the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, go online to chat live or text message to 838255.