Service vets hike PCT trail: Warrior Hikers to visit Legion

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As part of the annual spring influx of Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, six military veteran hikers will be welcomed by American Legion Post 800.

This is the fourth year returning combat vets are hiking the PCT and visiting Idyllwild as part of Warrior Expeditions’ “Warrior Hike — Walk off the War,” a program designed to provide vets a wilderness trek opportunity to decompress after war-zone deployments.

Post 800 Sons of the AL will host the vets, representing Air Force, Marine Corp, Army and Navy service branches, from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, April 22. The public is welcome to meet the vets, hear about their duty tours and share dinner.

This year’s PCT trekking corps includes Winchester, Kansas native Patrick Booth, Marine Corp rifleman, Afghanistan deployment; Thomas Jones, Beaufort, South Carolina, Army infantryman, Iraq and Afghanistan deployments; James Mattingly, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Air Force security forces, Iraq deployment; Jose Montanez, Las Vegas, Nevada, Navy field medical service technician, Afghanistan deployment; Keith Rinehart, Detroit, Michigan, Marine Corps scout sniper, Iraq deployment; and Emory Wanger, Vancouver, Washington, Marine Corps communications collection analyst, Iraq deployment.

The vets are hiking the 2,650-mile PCT to publicize health challenges facing returning veterans as well as to experience the camaraderie and solitude of a five- to six-month hike shared with service comrades. The PCT begins at Campo on the border with Mexico just east of San Diego and ends in British Columbia, Canada, just north of the U.S. border.

In 1948, veteran Earl Shaffer told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” to process the sights, sounds and losses he experienced while serving in World War II. Fulfilling his mission, Shaffer became the first person to hike the full length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Following in Shaffer’s footsteps, former Marine Corps Capt. Sean Gobin started the Warrior Expeditions program in 2013 after completing a six-month hike of the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail in 2012. Gobin had previously served three combat-duty tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cognizant that 20 percent of the 2.5 million returning Afghanistan/Iraq combat vets suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, Gobin believed others could heal from a prolonged wilderness experience, just as he had.

The Warrior Hike program is now conducted on eight trails across the U.S. There is a 4,229-mile bike expedition from Virginia to Oregon and a 2,320-mile Minnesota to Louisiana paddle trip in which veterans can participate. This year, Warrior Expeditions is sponsoring 40 veterans participating in its menu of hikes, bikes and water treks.

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