Charles has been helping us out the last few days. This blog is from him.
While most people were getting ready to bring in the New Year with friends and family or maybe some crazy trip to LA, Vegas or even Time Square to watch the ball drop, I was getting my house ready for two strangers I had never meet but would be supporting them with transportation, food, and shelter for the next 2 weeks.
I served in the Army National Guard from May 1998 – May 2007, I first joined the Arizona Army National Guard where I worked as a Fire Direction Specialist for an Artillery unit from 1998 – 1999. In 1999 I moved to Indiana and transferred to a local Army National Guard unit, the only problem was there were no Artillery units where I was living so I had to change my job to 11B Infantry. I was a gunner with an Infantry platoon from 1999 – 2001. I remember the day very well I was making a change from Alpha Company to Headquarters Company so I could deploy to Bosnia on September 11, 2001. I was deployed to Bosnia for a 6 month rotation during the summer of 2002 after returning home things went back to normal work, family and weekend drills. I had started my own plumbing company and things were going great for me, a new house, new cars and was due to get out of the National Guard in May of 2004 after serving 6 years. My unit was put on federal orders on May 1, 2004 for a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. I was placed under a stop-loss but me being so stubborn I was not going to deploy on a stop-loss so I did the most rational thing I reenlisted for 3 more years. I did my time in Afghanistan for a year, I was 11C (Mortars) when I arrived in country and after a few months with my unit I was sent over to another unit to train the Afghan National Army how to use Russian Artillery. Coming home was rougher than I thought; I had a lot of anger, rode rage and had lost trust in everyone I knew who was not a veteran. I came home to a divorce, lost my business and my home so I quickly turned to alcohol to ease the pain. I have had my fair share of hardships over the last 8 years but the one thing I never did was give up. Today I can look back at the struggles I have been through, no food, homeless and all around lost with everyday life. What comfort I have found has been in the form of helping other veterans with their challenges as I have overcome a majority of mine. To me it does not matter what branch of service what war you fought in or if you never say combat a veteran is a veteran no matter what. I am not writing this to talk about my service or my struggles with the VA system but a Facebook page I found back in June of 2013. It was just another day of me sitting on the computer doing nothing, when all of a sudden I find this page called Veterans Trek. Two Iraq Veterans that are planning on walking across the U.S. to raise awareness for PTSD and other veteran issues. I was all over this, sending the page to my friends and wishing I could do something to support them. My finances at the time were very limited and I did not have a lot of extra money but I had to do something. I contacted Tom and offered my home to them when they reached the small town I live in in Arizona. I offered the basics a place to sleep, eat and shower. When I made the offer it was all I could do to support them. I continued to watch their progress as they sent out requests for donations of item from sleeping bag and back packs and Go-Pro cameras for their Trek. I did not have the funds to help so I searched their site and found they wanted snake bite kits; they were not expensive so I ordered them 2 kits. I was proud I had gotten them something they need for their trek. I was still not fulfilled that I had done enough to help these two veterans walking from Milwaukee, WI to Los Angeles, CA. one night I saw a post on their Facebook page that they need people to store water for them along their route, again I wasted no time and sent my address to them to store the water. I received 2 cases of water in July 2013 but their trek was not to start until August 30, 2013. So I had been following their progress for 3 months before they started walking. After they started their trek I was watching their updates and following their progress daily, I want as far as trying to predict when they would arrive in my town. I marked my calendar for January 20, 2014 as the date I would finally meet these two veterans for the first time. I followed them through blisters, long days, sleeping in cemeteries, and winter storms in Colorado. December 14th they finally crossed into Arizona even though they were still over 300 miles from my house that was all I was talking about to friends and family. December 18th was the first time I messaged them on Facebook and was actually starting to secure the opportunity to help them with their trek. December 30 I contacted them again as they had finally reached Williams, AZ about 100 miles from my house. With my finances in better order I wanted to provide as much support as possible for these two veterans who have been away from their families for over four months to support other veterans some they had meet along the way and some they may never meet. My mission was to pick them up on December 31st treat them to a nice New Year’s Eve dinner, a place to sleep, shower and then drive them back to continue their walk. I would be repeating this process daily until they reach Needles California. I have to say it has been a blast helping Tom and Anthony out on their mission to help other veterans. By the time I bid them farewell in Needles, Ca I will have driven approx. 1,500 miles transporting them cooked them 13 meals and had 2 great weeks of visiting and spending time getting to know these guys. I have taken them to listen to a local band; arranged an interview with our local newspaper, 3 radio interviews and help them reach out to other groups on Facebook. Even though I will be saying goodbye in a few days and as much as I was able to help and support them with their trek I am far from done. I want to help try and make their arrival on the Santa Monica Pier on February 1st as big as I can make it. I will be making the trip in February to meet them at the end of the trek another 338 miles from my home. I have made some lifelong friends and I will continue to support Veterans Trek as long as I am able. Charles Black OEF 2004 -2005 For more information on Tom and Anthony from Veterans Trek and their mission to help other veterans you can find them at facebook.com/veteranstrek and http://www.veteranstrek.com
Thank you, Charles.
See you on the trail,
Anthony and Tom