WASHINGTON – On Sunday, thirteen veterans will begin a six-month journey along the Appalachian Trail to try and walk off the effects of war.
The veterans will follow in the footsteps of World War II veteran Earl Shaffer. In 1948, Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire Appalachian Trail after telling a friend he was going to “walk off the war. ”
The idea behind the “Walk off the War” program is to use nature and the Appalachian Trail to help warriors transition back into civilian life after combat, says Sean Gobin, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and one of the founders of a non-profit called Warrior Hike, which raises money for veterans.
“You get to spend six-months really appreciating the National Parks and what America has to offer,” Gobin says.
Gobin says donations raised by both Warrior Hike and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy will cover the costs for the veterans who take part in the hike program.
The journey for the 11 men and two women begins in Georgia and ends in Maine. Most of the veterans have seen combat.
Last year, Gobin hiked the trail, all 2,180 miles, with fellow Marine and co-founder of the Warrior Hike Mark Silvers. They had planned the hike before they left the military. Both are now pursing masters degrees at the University of Virginia.
“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.
Gobin says the hike is a physical and a psychological way to decompress and a way to bond with other veterans. He says hopefully it’ll help these men and women transition from war to civilian life armed with a better chance for success.
He says this isn’t about an external change in the warriors but more of a change in perspective.
“I’m just hoping to give more people the opportunity to transition the way I did and the way Earl Shaffer did back in 1948,” says Gobin.
He’s planning to run the hike again next year and to add two other long-distance trails: the Pacific Crest Trail on the West Coast and the Continental Divide Trail that travels through the Rockies.
You can follow the hikers and their progress by going to www.warriorhike.com for a link to their Facebook page. Gobin says the hikers will post pictures, videos and story updates of their journey.