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Veteran embarks on walk to Boston from Western Massachusetts

Army veteran Jim Chartier is embarking on a 90-mile journey to raise awareness of mental health needs after service.

PHIL DEMERS/MASSLIVE.COM (TNS)

By PHIL DEMERS | MassLive.com (Tribune News Service) | Published: November 4, 2017

An Army veteran is marching to Boston to raise awareness of mental health needs after service.

"I wish I could (march to Boston) with him, but the mind says 'Yes,' and the body says, 'Oh, hell no," former U.S. Marine Michael Redfern said early Friday morning in Chicopee as his fellow veteran Jim Chartier took off on foot for Boston.

Chartier, a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant, plans to reach the steps of the State House four days in four days, meaning he'll cover roughly 22.5 miles a day -- a fitting number, because Chartier said around 22 veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S.

It's the second year in a row Chartier embarked on the journey, a demonstration he hopes will raise awareness about veterans suffering PTSD and homelessness.

A U.S. Army Staff Sergeant during his time in the service, Chartier served from 1981 to 1989.

He was not a combat veteran, but did four years active duty -- two of them in Germany -- the remainder in Fort Hood, Texas.

Chartier says PTSD is "hard to explain" and understand.

"(Combat veterans) can't un-see what they've seen," he said. "To keep them active and in a social setting helps them cope."

The idea did not come naturally as one might expect. Asked if he was always a big walker, Chartier laughingly replied, "No, actually."

"But, I've always said my legs will carry me wherever I want to go. I really put that to the test last year."

The hardest section?

"That would be Worcester," he sighed, a grimace on his face.

"I think it's amazing," said Redfern. "90 miles in sneakers is one thing, 90 miles in leather combat boots, carrying a full pack, is completely different."

Last winter, Redfern said he found himself in a spot of car trouble and reached out to Chartier for help on fixing his breaks.

"I asked him how much I owed him for the break job and he says, 'You're helping me out on the 90 Mile March, we're good.'"

Redfern was planning to drive down the road and meet up with Chartier at a gas station in Ludlow to share some food and water. Chartier said he stops every seven miles or so.

Columbia Gas sponsored Chartier's 90-Mile March this year.

Asked whether he intends to make the march an annual tradition, Chartier said, "It is what it is. I don't want to make it about me, just put the spotlight on the issue for a little bit and hope it makes a few people pay attention."

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