For the third year, U.S. military veterans return to Idyllwild as thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. They are part of “Warrior Hike: Walk Off the War,” a program of outdoor wilderness exercise therapy designed to help veterans transition from front-line military service to civilian life.
Former Marine Corps Capt. Sean Gobin realized the potential benefit to other veterans after he hiked the 2,185-mile Appalachian Trail in 2012, immediately after returning from three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gobin had several goals in establishing the program that now runs on the three National Scenic Trails — the Pacific Crest, Appalachian and Continental Divide — as well as a number of other regional trails. Gobin’s first goal was to give veterans the tranquility and time to reboot and revive after stressful military front-line service. Second was to raise money to finance purchases of adaptive vehicles for injured vets; and third, and now the primary goal, was to acquaint residents in towns along the trails with the many difficulties returning vets have in adapting to civilian life after returning from war zones.
Gobin described how veterans could be on the front lines one day and on air transports back to the states a day or two later. As Gobin personally understood, that rapid transition was far too difficult, especially for vets suffering from post-traumatic stress and other mental conditions brought on by front-line deployment.
On Saturday, April 23, the American Legion Post 800 hosts an event to meet the five 2016 PCT Warrior Hikers, to hear their stories and to support their journeys. The post will honor them with a reception at 4 p.m. and a brats, sauerkraut and salad dinner from 5 to 7 p.m. Dessert donations are welcome. The event is open to the public.
This year’s hikers are:
• Army vet Joseph Jamison of Pueblo, Colorado. Jamison served as a field artillery surveyor in Iraq and Afghanistan from 1990 to 2015.
• U.S. Navy Parachute Rigger Daniel Jones of Marshalltown, Iowa, who served from 1985 to 1992 with deployments in Saudi Arabia.
• Ruben Munoz, U.S. Navy field medical service technician of Miami, Florida, active service from 1991 to 2012 with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
• U.S. Army Special Forces Communications Sgt. Jimmy Sellers of Killeen, Texas, who served from 1987 to 2014 with tours in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
• U.S. Navy Fire Control Technician Albert Woolum of Richland Hills, Texas, who served from 1971 through 1975 with deployment in Vietnam.
The Warrior Hikers will share their stories both of their hike and their military service. As part of their mission, they’ll also pitch the importance of funding veteran care, especially for those suffering from PTSD and other conditions that have led to spikes in suicides among returning vets.
“I realized this could be an alternative therapy — that hiking and being outside in wilderness areas could provide a permanent coping mechanism,” said Gobin. “It’s not a cure but a reset button and one that is free and that vets can continue to use.”
For information about how Idyllwild residents can support the mission of the Warrior Hikers, visit www.warriorhike.com. Locals who want to provide transportation from trailhead to the Legion can contact Post 800’s Dave Fraser at 951-659-3165 or Post 800 at 951-659-3517.