Six days after 32-year-old Joshua Brewer medically retired from Fort Drum, home of the 10th Mounted Division in Jefferson County, N.Y., he began hiking the 800-mile Arizona Trail.
Four hundred miles and one pair of hiking boots later, Brewer and his hiking companion, Shawn Murphy, 48, of Auburn, Wash., were greeted April 18 by local veterans and Vice Mayor Dennis Brown.
Brewer and Murphy are participating in the third year of Warrior Hike’s “Walk off the War,” a program designed to support combat veterans as they transition from their military service by hiking America’s National Scenic Trails.
The program depends on local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legions along the trail to provide lodging, transportation and meals.
The veterans also receive about $3,000 of camping gear from sponsors through the non-profit organization.
In 2012, after returning home from three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Warrior Hike founder Sean Gobin hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
Recognizing the therapeutic effects of long distance walking, he created the program.
The Division of Veteran Affairs reports 11 to 20 individuals out of every 100 who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in a year.
VFW Post 7507 Commander Phil Yin, American Legion Post 58 Commander Bob Putnam, Joe Aliberti, VFW service officer, and Vice Mayor Dennis Brown welcomed them.
Yin arranged for a two-night complimentary stay at The Lexington Hotel, compliments of manager Gary Lvov, and gave them Red Shirts. The Legion post hosted them for dinner.
Vice Mayor Dennis Brown presented them souvenir Fountain pins and a history of the town.
“They call it outdoor therapy,” said Murphy, whose goal is to hike all 11 National Scenic Trails.
“Obviously, spending so much time hiking you have nothing better to do than think so you are able to work through some of the things that are bothering you,” he explained.
Murphy and Brewer have been averaging 20 miles a day.
Brewer, an Adams, N.Y. resident, served in the Army from 2000 until this past March 10 and completed two deployments to Kosovo and Iraq.
Murphy says he is a better person for the experience. Hiking has helped him work through his anger issues and learn who he is.
“It helps me find my place,” he said. “Hiking brings out the best in me.”
In 2012, Murphy solo-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile route that makes its way up the length of California, crossing Oregon and Washington before reaching the Canadian border.
Last summer he was one of a handful of veterans who hiked the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail between Mexico and Canada, covering as many as 30 miles a day.
They carry a week’s supply of food and water on the trail. Murphy estimated that their backpack weighs at least 35 pounds.
“It’s all about your past, present and future,” said Murphy. “Hiking brings out the best in me ...the beauty of it is impressive, the animals and the people, the solitude and the scenery.”
New this year is Warrior Paddle, a 2,300-mile kayak trip down the Mississippi River, for veterans who are physically unable to do long-distance hikes. A cross country bicycle trail ride also is in the works.
The walk has been tougher on Brewer, a new hiker: “I’m getting adjusted so I can get through it with more ease.”
The hikers’ plan is to arrive May 2 in Flagstaff and May 10 in Page, near the trail’s end.