In the distant past, after a grueling war campaign, military units would have a long journey on foot to get back home. This allowed time to wind down and process what they had just been through. In this day and age, military units can be relieved of duty and back home in days if not hours, not really affording much time to decompress. That’s where Sean Gobin and his Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” program comes in.
A Little History
Sean Gobin served three combat deployments: twice to Iraq and one to Afghanistan finally returning home for good in 2012. While waiting to start college he took off to hike all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail and raise funds to help disabled Veterans. After recognizing the therapeutic effects the hike had on him, he was inspired to create the “Walk Off The War” program.
What They Do
“Walk off the War” provides gear and the supplies necessary to complete a thru-hike on any of several National Scenic Trails. They also coordinate with various veteran and community organizations to provide overnight lodging, food, and transportation along with the physical and emotional support the hikers need to meet the challenges ahead of them.
That’s a Lot of Hiking
The program began with the Appalachian Trail and has since expanded to include the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail which travels from Canada to the border with Mexico There is also the 3,100 mile Continental Divide Trail running from northern Montana south to the border of Mexico, the Ice Age Trail which meanders through Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Florida Trail which covers the length of that state from Pensacola to almost Miami.
I had a chance to talk with Sean Gobin and ask a few questions.
Michael Ryan: How did this all start?
Sean Gobin: I got back from Afghanistan and had 5 months before school started and I had always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. We did the fundraiser to raise money for grants for vets but about 2/3 of the way through the hike I had like an epiphany and realized this could be designed as a transitional therapy for returning vets.
MR: Did you have any idea this would take off like it has?
SG: Not at all, I did stops at veteran organizations at trail towns along the way and they helped with donations and fundraising. It went so well we were able to give grants to vets with multiple amputations to get vehicles so they could drive and help them plug into their communities.
MR: How did it grow from there?
SG: 2013 was our Beta test to see if it worked. This last year (2014) we had 14 hikers on the Appalachian Trail, we had 5 on the Continental Divide and 6 on the Pacific Crest. We’ve tripled the program this year adding the Ice Age and Florida Trails and are planning a paddling trip down the entire Mississippi for 2015.
MR: Which is the most popular and which is your favorite?
SG: The Appalachian of course is the most well-known and popular. That’s the only one I’ve had time to do so far.
MR: Do you get to hike the trails?
SG: Not at all. This is a 15 hr. a day job. I’m hoping to get a few folks onboard, maybe a staff of 6 or so to help in the next year. We have grown so fast. I need to get some “Me” time to enjoy some hikes.
MR: How do your sponsors help?
SG: Our sponsors give us gear for the hikers and some of the funding we get goes toward stipends for the hikers.
MR: How can our readers help out?
SG: Of course they can donate online and we have t-shirts and stickers to buy. If they’re near a trail they can help out with the hike.
MR: How does that work?
SG: A big component is the huge network of support we get. They can provide dinners and host hikers for the evening. This lets them clean up and shower, do laundry that sort of thing.
How you can help
Warrior Hike has partnered with Operation Military Embrace making all donations tax deductible and 100% of all donations go towards supporting the Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” program.
Donations can be submitted online at warriorhike.org and t-shirts and stickers can be ordered there as well.