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A group of veterans posing with Auburn and Alabama flags.

ASVA is best known for Operation Iron Ruck, the organization's most popular event used to raise awareness for veterans' mental health. In 2023, members carried the Iron Bowl game ball from Bryant-Denny Stadium to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Most commonly known around campus for its Operation Iron Ruck event, the Auburn Student Veterans Association (ASVA) does much more behind the scenes to help Auburn University’s student veterans.

An annual occurrence hosted in tandem with the University of Alabama Campus Veterans Association, Operation Iron Ruck is a time when Iron Bowl rivalry is set aside to carry the game ball from the visiting team’s stadium to the home team’s stadium to raise money and awareness for the mental health of veterans. While this work garners the most headlines, including features on ESPN with Marty Smith and SEC Nation, and recently earned the association a $250,000 grant to further its mission, the ASVA does much more to raise awareness for veterans’ mental health.

The student organization helps veterans navigate their journey from military life to the college scene.

“The average veteran that comes back to school is 31, and 65% of them have families,” said Drew Lufkin, a retired U.S. Army Ranger and ASVA president. “That's a big maturity difference between the average college student who is 20. They have a lot of life experience. So, what we're here for is to bridge that gap and say, OK, we recognize that these people have specific needs that are different from the average college person that they're not going to get met somewhere else.”

Auburn mascot Aubie doing pullups.

ASVA President Drew Lufkin helps coach Aubie on his pullup form at an ASVA awareness booth on the Haley Center concourse.

The ASVA does it all, from helping a veteran who was living in a car find a more permanent place to stay to providing assistance to children of veterans attending school on their parents’ GI Bill. Just this past year, the association awarded $25,000 in scholarships at its annual black-tie gala in November.

There’s no shortage of ways to lend a hand for anyone looking to help the ASVA. Starting on March 16, the association will host the Murph Challenge, a Crossfit workout where the participant wears 20 pounds of body armor and runs a mile, does 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats and then runs another mile. Held at Iron Tribe in Auburn with a $30 registration fee, this event is designed to work as a fundraiser and as a form of awareness.

“It's bringing physical fitness in to help promote mental health awareness, mental health fitness,” Lufkin said. “We want people to use it as a sort of an outlet and focus on mental health, providing an area for a veteran or family members who have any kind of problem at all.”

With so many veterans suffering from mental health problems, the ASVA hopes events like these can be used as physical outlets for their emotions. By providing productive outlets for these veterans to address their mental health, the ASVA aims to decrease the annual number of veteran suicides. Through fundraising and awareness, the association works tirelessly to achieve these goals.

A group of student veterans attending a meeting.

Some of the ASVA's 120 members meet to discuss how to facilitate the transition from active duty to college life smoother for the veterans on campus.

“On average 22 veterans a day take their lives,” Lufkin said. “That's the hardest part for us because we just lost one a couple weeks ago on Jan. 8. It's happened to so many of us. I've lost so many friends and so many people I know who just thought there was no way out.

“If you're a veteran and you're having a hard time, what I want to come out of all this is that there's somebody out there that cares about you even if you don't know they exist. I care about you.”

On March 18, the association will partner with the university’s Veterans Resource Center to host a golf tournament for veterans and their associates at the Auburn University Club. Two days later, the ASVA will take part in the Tuscaloosa Gauntlet, a 5K Marine regulation obstacle course race put on by the Alabama Marine’s Foundation that features more than 20 obstacles.

For those who are not as athletically inclined, all are welcome at the ASVA tailgate at football games and behind the outfield fence at baseball games, where visitors are encouraged to get to know some of the more than 120 ASVA members.

“Just talk to a veteran, talk to him and say what's up? I promise we're scary looking but you gotta get past the hard candy shells,” Lufkin said.

There are even ways to help in the ASVA offices, either by volunteering or participating in a work-study program. The office remains a place for veterans and their families to find a home on Auburn’s campus, and to become part of a unique and special opportunity.

“If a veteran or a family member has any sort of problem at all, they come here, this is their home, this is our space,” Lufkin said. “It's people that are like you that understand you. Because when you join the military is not just a job, it's a way of life.”

A group of golfers pose at a charity event.

Veterans and members of the Auburn community gather each year for a fundraising golf tournament organized by the Veterans Resource Center and the ASVA.