HEIDELBERG, Germany — Col. Robert Jordan was planning on a party to mark the end of his 36 years as a British Army officer. But a quip from his wife changed his mind.
Now the party’s out, and Jordan is setting off next week on something much more difficult and far less boozy: a monthlong, roughly 500-mile hike for charity from his final duty station in Germany to a military academy in England where his career began.
“It’ll be my last big adventure in the military, and I think I’m going to meet some really great people along the way,” said Jordan, 54, who for the past four years has been the British Army liaison to U.S. Army Europe.
He plans to walk six days a week, 18 to 20 miles a day, through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France, then ride the ferry from Dunkirk to Dover and continue on foot to Surrey.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. “When you look at it in chunks, as long as I don’t get an injury, this is very doable.”
He’s been training for months, after years at a desk job, lost 12 pounds and says he’s ready. “I haven’t had a blister in months. My feet are nice and hard,” he said.
Jordan will leave his office with the giant framed photo of Queen Elizabeth next Thursday – escorted out the gate of Heidelberg’s Campbell Barracks by local Boy Scouts and assorted well-wishers - then head east for 20 miles or so.
That’s the first day of 30.
Jordan named his long walk home “Exercise Home Stretch,” and it’s intended not only to provide a last adventure, but also to raise money for a variety of British military charities. As of last week, Jordan said he’d received 152 donations totaling about $17,600.
The idea came to him last winter, he said, just as he was thinking it would be fun to have a retirement party like American officers do. “I’ve been to a number of them in USAREUR,” he said.
Then a friend emailed asking for the Jordans to sponsor a charity bike-ride through France. Jordan’s wife, Sue, was for it. But Jordan was skeptical.
“It’s just a glorified wine-tasting,” he said.
“At least he’s getting off his ass and doing something,” she replied.
“That got me thinking,” Jordan said.
He’d had a good career, he thought, and a lucky one. He’d commanded a regiment in Bosnia-Herzegovina and had spent a year in northern Ireland. But neither was really combat. And for the past decade, during two wars, he’d had staff jobs far from the fight.
“I have a lot of admiration and respect for what the people in both our armies are doing in today’s conflicts,” he said. “They are doing for real what I only trained for.”
It’s not that he feels guilty, he said.
“There is a part of me, when I look at what our young men are doing, and I think what I did – sitting in Germany, waiting for the Russians, or going to Northern Ireland and hoping someone would have a go, because it’s exciting – there’s a part of me that regrets that, that in my service, I wasn’t tested.”
So this is a test, in a way, even if he doesn’t plan to sleep in ditches or eat rations.
He’s arranged for free or reduced lodging and meals for almost all of his expected 31 nights on the road.
“At my age, I need a bed,” he said. “The idea was not to rough it. With all the hospitality, I anticipate most evenings sitting down to a very hearty dinner.”
Jordan also won’t lack for company on parts of the trip. Friends and colleagues will be joining him for portions, including Belgian Army friends, French Army friends and American friends. U.S. Air Force Col. Luke “Spunky” Grossman, for instance, is flying in from the U.S. to meet him in the Moselle region, where they’ll hike together for six days.
In the end, on Dec. 4, he’ll meet his wife and assorted well-wishers at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey, England, where all British Army officers are trained, and where he became an officer 36 years earlier, he said.
There won’t be a party, he said. But there will be a reception. He’ll retire in March.