NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — An Army veteran bicycling coast-to-coast to raise awareness for veteran mental health is making a stop in Normal on Saturday to honor a fallen friend and his Gold Star Family.

Kyle Bigue served with Bloomington native Sgt. Anthony Maddox in Afghanistan, who was killed in action in 2013. He will be in Normal on Saturday to remember his late friend.

Bigue and other veterans who served with Maddox created the Ultimate Sacrifice Foundation (TUSF) in the wake of the military pullout from Afghanistan in August. He embarked on a 3,700 mile TUSF Warrior Ride from Boston, MA to Coronado, CA to raise awareness about the group’s mission regarding the elevated rates of suicidal ideation and PTSD in veterans.

“We kept in touch over the years, and we saw the effects on the mental health that withdrawal had on some of the guys. It’s certainly related to post-traumatic stress (PTSD), loss of purpose and mission in life and kind of the ‘Why did I go to Afghanistan? Why did my brothers die, what did I fight for?’ So we decided to get together and do something about it, and that’s why the Ultimate Sacrifice Foundation was formed,” explained TUSF Chief Operating Officer Colin Lineberger.

The suicide rate among veterans (31.6 per 100,000) is twice the public suicide rate (16.8 per 100,000), based on a 2021 study from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Lineberger said two veteran friends have committed suicide since March 2022.

“So we’re veteran-founded and veteran-operated. Our mission is to improve the health, resilience, and wellbeing of our nation’s veterans, service members, and Gold Star families,” said Lineberger.

Bigue will be making a stop in Bloomington to pay respects to the Maddox family during a luncheon. The initial plan was for Bigue to be escorted by law enforcement down the ‘Maddox Mile’, a stretch of I-55 from exits 171 through 169 named for Maddox.

However, Lineberger said the Illinois State Police told them they couldn’t for safety reasons, so they adjusted the plan.

“So we’re going to parallel I-55 on Route 66, which goes right next to I-55. We’re still going to do the Maddox Mile,” he said.

Lineberger said the purpose of the luncheon is to honor the Maddox family and their son’s legacy.

“It’s to remind his Gold Star family that their sacrifice was not in vain, it’s not been forgotten. This event is to remind them that their son’s sacrifice is a key inspiring factor to all the good things that we’re doing right now so that his legacy remain lives on,” he said.

Maddox was killed in the Ghazni Province of Afghanistan in 2013. He was engulfed in flames following multiple explosions. Lineberger said Bigue was the first one on the scene to try to save his friend, and then the rest of the group arrived.

“That incident is what connected us all, I’m now intimately familiar with the Maddox family. When we decided to do this Warrior Ride, we knew that we had to do a stop in Bloomington,” said Lineberger.

The TUSF Warrior Ride “Maddox Mile” Luncheon will be held at Medici in Normal on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lineberger encouraged the community to come out to remember a fallen local hero.

“The Maddox family will be there. Kyle will be there and we’re going to host an amazing event. Come get some free food, come support a great cause and come show this family that their local hometown hero has not forgotten,” he said.

For those who cannot attend but would like to donate, text WARRIOR to 801801 or donate online.

TUSF’s goal is to raise $25,000, which will go towards getting Bigue to the finish line and further their mission to send veterans struggling with mental health to treatment facilities. Lineberger said treatment programs average around $50,000, adding they just sent the first service member on active duty to a treatment program.

“We are directly connected with the mission, we have skin in the game and if you want to support an organization of guys that have been there and done that, this is the place to do it,” said Lineberger.

According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, 20% of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from PTSD and/or depression.