War Veterans Walking The Appalachian National Scenic Trail To "Walk Off The War"

Recent war veterans are heading out along the Appalachian Trail to "Walk Off the War." Photo of A.T. near Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park by Kurt Repanshek.

It's been proven that spending time in nature helps ground us. To that end, a group of war veterans are heading out on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail to "Walk Off the War."

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, in partnership with Warrior Hike, Operation Military Embrace, the Military Family Lifestyle Charitable Foundation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association, has launched an initiative called the “Walk Off the War” program. This program will provide 13 military veterans the opportunity to reconnect with the United States in a uniquely physical and psychological way – a fully funded scholarship to hike the Appalachian Trail.

The objective of this program is to provide these veterans a self-directed, self-paced journey along the A.T. Hiking the trail provides the opportunity to eliminate the negative effects of the war, through walking in nature, engaging with other hikers, and experiencing the hospitality of the trail towns along the A.T.

In the end, the goal is to return these soldiers back into civilian society with the greatest opportunity for success in their personal and professional lives.

All participating veterans are not required to hike the entire A.T., but rather experience the physical, psychological and spiritual benefits of the Trail.

“Similar to Earl Shaffer, the first A.T. thru-hiker, these veterans will have the opportunity to journey along the Appalachian Trail and experience first hand the benefits of retreating back into nature,” said Rich Daileader, former thru-hiker and board member of the ATC. “The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is proud to partner up with Warrior Hike and several other military and veteran organizations to offer this incredible experience to our military veterans.”

The A.T. was completed in 1937 and is a unit of the National Park System. It is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, measuring roughly 2,180 miles in length. The trail goes through 14 states along the crests and valleys of the Appalachian mountain range from the southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, to the trail’s northern terminus at Katahdin, Maine.

An estimated 2 to 3 million people visit the trail every year, but only about 2,000 attempt to “thru-hike” the entire trail. Out of those who attempt to thru-hike, only one out of four complete the journey, taking approximately five to seven months.

The program will provide full scholarships covering gear, food, lodging, etc., to equip and support 13 military veterans. The first group of veterans is heading out today from Springer Mountain, Georgia. The rest of the veterans plan to begin their hike by April 15.

The ATC, trail-maintaining clubs along the A.T., and veterans groups in various “trail towns” will provide the veterans, who may travel alone or in small groups, with ancillary support services. This may include hosting a hiker or arranging transportation.

Two of the driving forces behind this initiative are Captains Sean Gobin and Mark Silvers, two Marines who, upon returning from Afghanistan in 2012, hiked the A.T. to help purchase adapted vehicles for seriously wounded veterans. They are also the co-founders of Warrior Hike, a non-profit organization geared to raise funds for wounded veterans.

This year’s group of veterans includes Adam Bautz, Rob Carmel, Steve Clendenning, Stephanie Cutts, Dick Erwin, Gary Ewin, Chris Galemore, Thomas Gathman, William Guill, Jeff Harper, Kevin Reed, Sharon Smith, and Cody Umphress.

This event is sponsored by 2Toms, Adventure Medical Kits, Ahnu, Antigravity Gear, Backcountry Edge, The Earl Shaffer Foundation, Easton Mountain Products, Good Sports, Granite Gear, Katadyn, Kelty, Leki, L.L. Bean, McKee Foods, Off Grid Expeditions, Railriders, Sawyer, The A.T. Guide, and Wise Company.

For more information about this program visit www.appalachiantrail.org/events or www.walkoffthewar.com.