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Veterans stopped at VFW before continuing on their 2,185 mile Warrior Hike

"Walk off the War" vets (wearing green) pose for a picture with members of VFW before heading out on the Appalachian Trail last Sunday. Photo by Jody Houle. (click for larger version)
August 28, 2013
BERLIN – Five combat veterans arrived in the North Country this weekend after five months of hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine for the "Walk off the War" Program. On Sunday morning at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Berlin, they ate a buffet-style breakfast at a benefit supported by the VFW staff.

After breakfast, they packed up assorted items including food and clothing and prepared to continue their hike. So far, they have traveled about 2000 miles by foot starting in Georgia through rain, snow, sleet, hail, thunderstorms, high winds, and scorching heat. They are almost at the remaining 300 mile mark that will end in Baxter State Park on Mt. Katahdin in north-central Maine.

"We have walked through three foot snow drifts, high winds, a lot of rain, and all sorts of weather, but we just keep going," said Rob Carmel from Olympia, Washington. He is a veteran of 32 years in the army. "It's been beautiful being part of nature. We get our pains and aches, and then we overcome," he said.

Earl Shafer, a World War II veteran, decided he was going to "walk off the war" in 1948. He was the first person to hike the entire trail system. Since then, many sponsors and organizations have collaborated to support the program designed to help war veterans transition from combat to civilian life. The Department of Veteran Affairs states that over 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"We bond and we carry on," said seven year navy veteran Stephanie Cutts from California.

Last year, Berlin's VFW post started a benefit program supporting veterans of war on terrorism by raising money for adaptive vehicles, and it was successful. Realizing that the program was already being done by other organizations, VFW members decided to change the focus to the Warrior Hike.

Gary Roy, senior vice commander and service officer of the VFW and 17 year navy vet said that when he came home, Berlin had changed. "Vets need to adapt to these changes," he said. "The hike is a way for them to share things and bond and relate to others," he said.

All five hikers are members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Warrior Hike has partnered with Operation Military Embrace. Donations can be made by mailing checks to: Operation Military Embrace, Inc. ATTN: Warrior Hike P.O. Box 149 Hockley, Texas 77447-0149

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