Six wounded American and British veterans completed a 106-mile journey across Colorado in Colorado Springs on Saturday to raise awareness and money for veterans struggling with mental illness.
The three U.S. and three U.K. veterans walked more than half of the 1,000-mile Walk of America, which started June 2 in Los Angeles and will end Sept. 6 at ground zero in New York City.
“The benefit of this walk is to help others and to help me,” said former Master Sgt. Adele Loar, the only woman on the team. Loar was injured when an explosive projectile was launched at her vehicle in 2006 while in Iraq. Her partner and the driver of the vehicle were killed.
Loar said the day she hit rock bottom, she received a call from a woman who took care of her while she recovered from the injuries she suffered in Iraq.
“This woman called me up and said, ‘I just got a feeling something’s wrong with you,’ and I broke down and told her everything,” Loar said. “She’s been my saving grace. ... She called at the right time.”
As he carried a Puerto Rican flag in his backpack, former National Guard Cpl. Frankie Perez said the walk was a chance to serve other veterans and a chance to educate nonmilitary citizens about mental illness.
“You don’t have to go to war to have this condition. You can develop PTSD just watching a natural disaster,” said Perez, who was hit by a roadside bomb while in Iraq and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Former Marine Sgt. Larry Hinkle and Kev Carr of the British Royal Logistics Corps said their struggle with mental illness began after they left the service.
“Getting back out of the military, you just kind of exist. … You don’t feel that you’re depended on,” said Hinkle, who was deployed three times. On his last deployment, he saw his first sergeant killed.
Hinkle said he had survivor’s guilt coupled with taking medication for several knee surgeries he had, but he decided to do community service after seeing a Facebook post of another Marine helping out a homeless person.
“This is the major leagues compared to anything I’ve ever done,” Hinkle said. “The impact that we’re making on such a big level — you can smile yourself to sleep at night.”
“It’s great when you can do that,” said Carr, noting that the walk gave him a purpose; a year ago, he was contemplating suicide.
“You lie in bed and you smile, then it makes you think, ‘I’m smiling instead of crying.’ It’s a bit weird, innit?”
“Yeah, it is,” Hinkle said. “(But) it’s good stuff.”
The walk, organized by the U.K. charity Walking with the Wounded, raises money for military charities in the U.S. and in Great Britain.
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