Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition that affects nearly 20 percent of veterans from the wars in Iraq, and Afghanistan according to Veterans and PTSD. It affects veterans from older wars too, and often causes depression. PTSD can also lead to suicide.
Marty Wills, a 23 year veteran who three years ago retired from the armed forces, has taken up a cause to raise awareness for PTSD. The Walking for our Warriors project is a journey that he began back on Memorial Day in May, leaving from Spring Lake Michigan with the intention of traveling by foot to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“I woke up one morning, my eyes popped open and I knew what I had to do,” Wills said. “So many friends have reached out to me. I’ve watched people struggle and they need more help than what they’re given.”
The walk is his way to educate the public on the 22-a-day suicide rate among veterans and those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress. Marty himself served for 10 years in the Army and 13 and a half years in the Navy as a corpsman. He has witnessed the effects PTSD has on his fellow veterans.
Wills tries to average 15-20 miles per day. With this past week however, he said he had to take a couple of days off because of the 100-degree weather.
“Going through the smaller towns, more people come out to greet me,” Wills said. “I get a lot of support from people are walking by, they give you a thumbs up, people salute as they drive by in their cars, people pull over on the side of the road and ask ‘what are you doing’ and I tell them what I’m doing”
Wills said whenever people asks him what he’s doing he refers them to the ‘Walking for our Warriors webpage. This week on his trip, Wills passed through Petersburg and then Stony Creek in Virginia. This s where he encountered the obstacle of the heat, which according to Wills, is one of the only obstacles he’s encountered on his trip so far.
“I’ve been in the rain,” Wills said. “I hiked down the great Alleghany trail. I even had one of my fellow marines that I was stationed with join me and we did a 22-mile day and we did a shorter day following that.”
Another encounter Wills said he ran into on his journey was another army veteran who had lost his brother in Afghanistan.
“He asked me if I could do him a favor and I said sure,” Wills said. “He pulled out an award box, opened it up, and it was a purple heart. He said that ‘this is my brother’s purple heart and I was wondering if you would carry it to honor him’ and my eyes got wet. It’s an honor in itself just to be carrying something that meaningful to a family.”
Wills said through his trip, he’s had families approach him with things like pictures of their love ones who had passed away because of PTSD and didn’t get the help they needed or committed suicide.
Wills so far has traveled over 700 of his intended 1060 miles, and he expected the journey to take about 60 days total. He also will be using this hike to educate the public and collect donations to go directly to 22Kill. An organization that uses its funds to support veterans with PTS. He has a gofundme page where he is accepting donations.
“I see myself trying to do this positive thing,” Wills said. “I just wish that people would be more empowered to something positive than negative.”