FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tom von Kaenel is on a 6,600-mile mission to raise awareness about the battles some veterans continue to fight after their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He stopped for a ceremony at Davie Town Hall on Friday during his bicycle trip from his South Carolina home to Key West, where he will turn around and head for Juneau, Alaska.
The Sea2Sea 2014 Challenge is expected to take four months, but it's not the first time von Kaenel has gone the extra mile. He rode his bike from Washington state to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in 2011.
The retired lieutenant colonel, 58, chose this path while recovering from injuries sustained on vacation in the French Pyrenees in 2010. He was recuperating in a U.S. military hospital in Germany, where he saw many young veterans returning from the Persian Gulf.
He is also making the ride for veterans such as Janos V. Lutz, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. The 24-year-old Marine took his own life when he returned home to Davie, said his mother. Janine Lutz.
Lutz cited post-traumatic stress disorder and the anti-malaria drug mefloquine, also known by its brand name Lariam, which her son had been ordered to take during and after his service, as contributing to his death. "The side effects are…paranoia, hallucinations," she said. "My son had all of that." Last September, the Army banned the use of the drug among special operations forces.
Lutz is working with von Kaenel to make people aware of the dangers of PTSD and some of the drugs prescribed for it. She's also trying to launch the Buddy Up-Live To Tell program for peer support among veterans.
"When [my son] was in his darkest hour, I couldn't help him," she said. "But I know if I had gotten some of his battle buddies here they would have saved my son."