Young veterans trekking from Milwaukee to Los Angeles
The first 10 miles of the day are the easiest, said Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss.
It is the additional 10 or 15 miles afterwards that are tough on their feet and psyche.
After walking approximately 300 miles from Milwaukee to near Marshalltown, the two veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom pay close attention to their feet, among other issues, that affect their bodies or mindset.
The two, who departed Milwaukee Aug. 30, will be walking another 2,400 miles to Los Angeles while carrying 50-pound rucksacks containing trip supplies. They plan to complete their mission by early 2014.
Anderson, 30 and Voss, 29, were in Marshalltown Wednesday after staying overnight Tuesday at the Iowa Veterans Home.
They were planning to take a short break here before resuming their trip westward.
Mike Hines, staff assistant to the commandant at IVH and an Army veteran, helped arrange accommodations.
The two men are walking to decompress from their war experiences years ago, to raise awareness of veterans dealing daily with issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, military suicides, and importantly, to raise $100,000 for Dryhootch, a veterans center in Milwaukee.
Dryhootch provides a variety of services to veterans, with an emphasis of helping veterans integrate into civilian life.
Anthony is director of operations for the not-for-profit while Voss is a former vice president.
Both said that after returning home, they jumped into the world of work and school without giving themselves enough time to adjust to their new, post-military, post-combat lives.
Anderson, served two tours in Iraq while a member of a Wisconsin National Guard unit.
Voss served one tour with the U.S. Army.
Both saw combat.
Voss said his squad leader and platoon sergeant were killed in action.
“There is no other experience like war that gives you a context to compare it to,” Anderson said. “One might break up with a girlfriend numerous times in their lives. One can compare it to similar situations and how one reacted then.
You go to war and you come home … what do you compare it to? A problem comes from it. Who do you talk to? Where do you turn? What life experience do you have to say ‘that is relatable.”
And it is the effective peer-to-peer approach used at Dryhootch that has helped many veterans cope with PTSD and other issues generated from the war.
Vietnam veterans have been the most helpful to War on Terror veterans, Anderson said.
“They have been home for 40 years,” Anderson said. “They have had failed and successful relationships. Personal and professional successes. Failure. But they are giving us insights and perspectives that they didn’t get until they were 40 or 50 years old. They can impart those messages to us.”
Voss said Dryhootch was popular with veterans and attendance is consistently high, because veterans are running the programs.
He too, complimented the commitment given by Vietnam veterans, who consul so that their War on Terror peers can perhaps escape some of the post-war experiences they had.
Anderson is concerned non-veterans do not understand the human cost incurred by veterans.
“They (non-veterans) look at our service as one we provide to them at no cost,” Anderson said. “There is a cost – a personal cost to us.”
The image of veterans as resilient, tough-minded and theoretically being able to overcome any obstacle gets in the way of non-veterans responding to veterans.
“My issues were I couldn’t sleep at night … I’d pick fights with my wife, I had difficulty in my interpersonal skills,” Anthony said. “I didn’t know how to talk to my family. Out in the community, I never got into trouble with the police. And we are not coming with our hand out, we just want some folks to understand.”
They have not experienced trouble in Iowa, and both raved about the hospitality and friendship they have received from strangers.
“Iowa is a beautiful state with pretty good people,” Anderson said. “To those who have donated to our mission, Tom and I want to sincerely thank you.”
For more information, or to donate to Dryhootch, visit veteranstrek.com or @VeteransTrekfacebook.com.