Veterans thru-hiking the AT to ‘Walk Off the War’
For 65 years, military veterans have hiked the Appalachian Trail to heal the emotional wounds of war. In fact, the first man to hike the entire trail was a vet. After returning from World War II, Earl Schaffer said to a friend that he was going to “walk off the war,” and set out on his four-month trek from Georgia to Maine.
This week, 13 military veterans are beginning that same journey as part of a new Walk Off the War program. Each veteran has a scholarship that fully funds their hike, thanks to a partnership between the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), Warrior Hike, Operation Military Embrace, the Military Family Lifestyle Charitable Foundation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association.
“Similar to Earl Shaffer, the first AT thru-hiker, these veterans will have the opportunity to journey along the Appalachian Trail and experience first hand the benefits of retreating back into nature,” said Rich Daileader, a former thru-hiker and board member of the ATC.
The veterans will also have the benefit of traveling with others who have experienced war. “Nobody talks to veterans like veterans,” Kevin Reed, a Walk Off the War participant, told Rochester, Minn., TV station KTTC. “We share a common bond, and we’ve seen a lot of similar things.”
Reed is part of a group of veterans that set off from Springer Mountain in Georgia on March 17, while the remaining veterans will begin hiking on April 15. As they make their way to Maine, the veterans will receive support from the ATC, trail clubs along the AT and veterans groups in towns near the trail.
The veterans are also getting assistance from Captains Sean Gobin and Mark Silvers, Marine veterans who helped the ATC create the Walk Off the War program. In 2011, while deployed in Afghanistan, Gobi and Silvers founded Warrior Hike, a non-profit organization that raises funds for wounded veterans. They then returned from Afghanistan, and in 2012 hiked the AT, raising funds for wounded veterans during their trek.
“You know we had such a positive experience last year that we wanted to make sure that we could provide this opportunity to other veterans,” Gobin says.
A big salute to Gobin, Silvers, the ATC and all the other organizations supporting the effort, including 2Toms, Adventure Medical Kits, Ahnu, Antigravity Gear, Backcountry Edge, The Earl Shaffer Foundation, Easton Mountain Products, Good Sports, Granite Gear, Katadyn, Kelty, Leki, L.L. Bean, McKee Foods, Off Grid Expeditions, Railriders, Sawyer, The A.T. Guide, and Wise Company.
To follow the Walk Off the War veterans and donate, visit www.warriorhike.com