Veterans making solo treks across country for PTSD awareness
By JESSE MOYA | The Deming Headlight (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 15, 2017
DEMING, N.M. — Soldiers perpetuate a lifelong camaraderie that extends to all corners of the country, and Army Veteran Eli Smith has set out to make others aware of that connection. By hiking more than 13,000 miles to each corner of the United States, Smith will be raising awareness for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide within the veteran community. He will be marching for the next three years to do so.
The Ohio native began his journey in Pensacola, Florida, and stopped in Deming for the weekend on his way to California.
“It was really hard, and it started ringing through my social circle,” said Smith of comrades suffering from PTSD and the hopelessness of suicide among the ranks. “Things like that kept happening too often and I wanted to do something about it.”
The cause originated when the reality of PTSD and veteran suicide began to hit too close to home for Smith. An avid hiker, Smith began the hefty preparations for the hike by raising money for the necessary gear. To do this, he sold his possessions and has only kept the bare minimum of belongings needed to complete the hike. The hike will take Smith to every corner of the United States and he still has nearly 12,000 miles yet to complete.
“It’s been very welcoming, very gracious,” Smith said. “The veterans and different organizations that we’ve been able to meet has been tremendous. A lot of people don’t even know that we lose 22 veterans per day.”
Currently, there are several individuals on the road walking for veterans and Smith happened to cross paths with another soldier in Midland, Texas, walking for similar reasons.
Ernesto Rodriguez set out from Tennessee after retiring from the military the past year and began his march for awareness on the veteran suicide rate. Rodriguez will be marching to California during his trek to complete 2,200 miles. Smith and the Rodriguez have quickly developed a friendship traveling together and have done so for company and safety sake.
“It’s the same message — it’s just evolved a little bit as we go through,” Rodriguez said. “Taking care of veterans is very important to us.”
National statistics indicate that, on average, 22 veterans commit suicide every day for various reasons involving PTSD and other illnesses. This data has become unacceptable Smith and Rodriguez who are focused on completing their journeys for the cause.
The two have stopped at several cities and towns and met local veterans and various causes willing to help and raise awareness as well. They will be traveling west for the next two months.
“What keeps me going, when it comes to the actual mission at hand, meeting 102-year-old WWII vets, getting to go to Fort Bliss and getting to hang out with soldiers. These are awesome experiences,” Rodriguez said. “I always look forward to ‘who’s the next person I'm going to meet in the next town.’”
Jesse Moya can be reached at 575-546-2611 (ext 2608) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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