OLIVIA, N.C. - A friend warned Matt Campbell to be careful about bears along the Appalachian Trail.
If bears had been his biggest concern over the past few years, Campbell would have been a happy man.
Campbell, an Army veteran with tours in the mountains of Iraq and Afghanistan, is trekking over much more sedate territory this spring. This week, he began a planned 2,184-mile hike up the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness and support for military families in need.
"I'm blessed, so blessed, to be home and safe," Campbell said as he completed his final checks of equipment. "There are many families who have real problems.
"It's something that a lot of people just don't know about. I know here in this area, people know about what our soldiers and their families go through, but other places they really don't deal with it."
Campbell, the son of Barbara and Daniel Campbell, volunteered for the military in 2004 after graduating from Western Harnett high School. He earned an honorable discharge and array of commendations after eight years, serving as a combat medic.
This fall, he plans to attend East Carolina University to earn a nursing degree. That left the spring and summer free, he said, to "do something to make a difference."
"I know how hard it can be to transition back into civilian life," he added. "It troubles me to see someone who has given everything to make a better life for all of us, and then their own family struggles when the experience is over."
His concern led him to contact Active Heroes, a group that helps military families by providing financial assistance and job placement.
Campbell was impressed that Troy Yocum, the founder of Active Heroes, hiked across the United States in 2010 and 2011. He wanted to try something similar, raising support for families along the way. His goal is to hike from northern Georgia to the northern end of the trail by early August, raising $10,000 for Active Heroes.
"Hiking the Appalachian Trail has been on my bucket list for a while," Campbell said. "I've always loved hiking and the outdoors. I love going up to places like Hanging Rock State Park and spending the weekend. Plus, I've had plenty of practice hiking with 50 or 60 pounds of gear up and down the mountains.
"So primarily the last few months have been getting prepared for the hike. I've been setting up drop boxes for myself along the way and getting the word out about what I'm doing."
Campbell plans to maintain a traveling blog, keeping supporters updated on his progress. He also plans to offer hiking tips and suggestions for people who'd like to start their own trek.
His most surprising suggestion: even tough guys can use tampons.
"It always surprises guys - it sure did surprise me - but it's a Special Forces trick that has saved more people than you can imagine. Tampons are great for starting fires, and sanitary napkins will cover a wound better than just about anything.
"The key in hiking is being prepared for any problems that might come along. This hike will be a great experience for me. I hope it will help make a difference for a lot of families that need help, as well."
Want to help?
For more information about Matt Campbell's hike for Active Heroes, or to contribute, go to
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