Pa. Navy veteran readies for 2,200-mile trek
By WAYNE WITKOWSKI | The (Stroudsburg, Pa.) Pocono Record | Published: March 8, 2014
The weather has been challenging for hiking, so Anne O'Brian, of Smithfield Village in East Stroudsburg, has taken her cardio and flexibility workouts inside to Elevations on Route 209 in recent weeks as she prepares for an awareness trek along the Appalachian Trail.
The 2,200-mile journey that begins in Whistler, Ga., on April 1 and ends at Mount Katahdin in Maine in October is intended to bring attention to many different causes tied to the military, where she served for 20 years and achieved the rank chief petty officer.
She proudly speaks of how she joined the Monroe County Honor Guard and is a volunteer in the Retirement Services Office in Pike County.
"I built up quite a bit of muscle and for the last three to four weeks (in March) I'll be doing a lot of Pilates, yoga and flexibility training," O'Brian said.
She has another member of the military accompanying her: Alex Iffert, a New York state native who had served in San Diego where she retired from the military and found O'Brian on her Facebook page Band of Sisters: Hike the AT 2014.
Iffert is a military sexual trauma survivor, which is part of the focus of O'Brian's awareness hike.
"The epitome of what I'm trying to do is to get women to connect who had a sister, mother, partner who served in military who paid the price, and I want to honor the wounded and military sexual trauma survivors or those who are homeless," O'Brian said.
9/11 victim recalled
O'Brian first got involved with military sexual trauma helping a female victim.
"I had the honor of being a sexual abuse victims' advocate and equal opportunity adviser for my command. Those collateral duties meant a lot," O'Brian said.
She said she also is concerned about the high suicide rate in the military, which she says is up to 22 a day, including a friend she says she lost that way in November.
O'Brian was in military court during her service, facing issues of being gay that were dropped and added that she was glad to see military policies end those procedures.
She's dedicating the first 100 miles to Melissa Rose Barnes, a Navy officer killed in the Pentagon when a hijacked plane hit on Sept. 11, 2001.
This journey is done to raise awareness only and is not meant to be a fundraiser, said O'Brian.
She plans to have daily Twitter updates of her journey.
Support from others
"I've had close to 260 likes and was contacted by four more women who will meet us at different points in different states along the way where they live," said O'Brian, who figures to get back to the Poconos around July 4.
O'Brian said she's gotten a lot of encouragement from men as well as women who served, including from a man in Ohio who is a Vietnam veteran who said he'd like to walk with O'Brian and Iffert for a few days over the summer.
"Everything he's reading and seeing on TV has made him sick and he wants to walk and show his support," said O'Brian, referring to the media coverage of sexual assaults in the military.
O'Brian says she wants to hike for her cause at other spectacular settings, such as the Continental Divide and the Pacific Coast Trail.