Recently, I have been reflecting on how I got to where I am today. While it is true that I arrived here with great personal work and determination, I know that I have many people and organizations to thank for getting me here in the way that I have. While I could sit here all day and list off every single one of them, today I am reflecting mostly on one organization in particular: Warrior Hike and the “Walk Off the War” program.
In the summer of 2012 is when I got linked up with their founder, Sean Gobin, by mere chance. The details surrounding that chance encounter are a whole different story altogether. Ultimately, I sought him out via Facebook after he completed his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in which he raised funds along the trail to purchase adaptive vehicles for seriously wounded veterans. It was during this hike that the vision for the Walk Off the War program first occurred and when he completed his hike, it started to take shape. After a few months and several conversations, I decided that I wanted to be a part of this organization and the program’s inaugural hike on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. It’s mission is to support combat veterans thru-hiking America’s National Scenic Trails to better help us transition from our time in service into civilian life. It is an amazing program that has far reaching positive benefits. I consider myself extremely privileged to have been associated with such fine organization whose mission I believe in so much.
I am blessed in many ways, but sometimes I tend to feel guilty about one way in particular. So many of my brothers that I fought along side of (those that I’ve known personally and otherwise) have come home different than they were before. Some of them come home missing limbs, some of them have paid the ultimate price and leave families behind, and some of them come home with pain that they may never share with you, me, or anyone for that matter. I am referring to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So many people come home and just are not the same. It’s something that most people will never understand. Even coming from a combat MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), I can understand WHY they might have it, but I will never understand what it is actually like to HAVE it. This is where I am blessed and at the same time what I feel guilty about it. Why does one person have difficulties coming to terms with the sights, sounds, and the implications of decisions and actions made in combat and another person can process all of that in a healthy manner? I don’t know if I will ever have the answer to that question and I am sure I am not the only one that feels this way. But what I do know is no matter what you are struggling with in life, you can find peace in the outdoors. You may not ever fully heal from whatever issues you are having, whether that is PTSD or even just the anxiety of normal every day life, but you can find a healthy break from all of this by getting outside and unplugging from the craziness that is our modern society. And trust me, it IS insane. It is chaotic. It is my personal opinion that our soul’s were just never meant to live this way. And yet here I am blogging and being a part of one of the reasons why life can be difficult. A lot can stem from being overly plugged in. The whole world is now connected. Probably to a fault. Breaking away from this can reset you and renew your spirit.
Warrior Hike aims to do this. And for me, it worked wonders. I never really felt like I had an issue living in our modern world before during or after my time in combat, but I recognized the difference in my peace and sanity once I had begun my hike on the Appalachian Trail with Warrior Hike in 2013. Warrior Hike gave me all the gear and support anyone could ever hope to have during a long distance hike. At almost every town stop along the trail there is a veteran organization (VFW, Legion Post, etc.) or a supporter of veterans there to help you out. Whether its a ride to town, a place to stay, a warm meal, or all three, you are taken care of. The best part is interacting with the members of these organizations. You get to spend quality time with veteran’s from previous generations who have served in previous wars so you share a common bond with these salt dogs who paved the way for you and me. So much respect between the generations of warriors, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We share a common bond of selflessly serving our nation and fighting for freedoms that are constantly taken for granted by many. A bond that is shared between brother’s that have never met and yet was forged long before we were even born. What a unique way to experience a trail and to travel by foot from town to town through the back country of our great nation.
I can’t begin to explain how fortunate I am to have the experience I’ve had. I may have made it to Mt. Kathahdin from Georgia all on my own with no help PHYSICALLY, but I’d be a fool if I sat here and told you that Warrior Hike didn’t play maybe the most integral role in the way my growth and experience on the trail unfolded. I owe them so much and every supporter of Warrior Hike as well, whether that be a gear company that donated gear or the countless individuals that have been encouraging on Facebook, They all deserve recognition and the utmost thanks from me in my development and growth for the hiker and man that I have become today. I couldn’t have the peace in my life that I have today without everyone that has made Warrior Hike possible. And that start’s at the top with their founder, Sean Gobin.
If you have a chance, go ahead and check out their website and Facebook page as they have expanded to include other trails and adventures since my fateful AT hike back in 2013. And if you have a friend or know someone who is getting out of the service and they don’t know what they are doing in life, have them check it out too. We’ve lost too many people who have come home that have found no direction or peace in their life. You might be able to do something about. At least tell them to get out and go for a hike and don’t forget that you can too!!
– This post is dedicated to my brother Travis Staats. May you Rest In Peace my friend –