North Adams VFW Welcomes Warrior Hike Veterans

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Nathan Buchholz of Minnesota, Michelle Revoir of 'everywhere,' Dennis Newton of Alabama, Caitlin Murphy of Maine, and Gabe Golden of Texas.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A group of military veterans stopped at the local VFW after making their way off the Appalachian Trail for a little relaxation and conversation as part of the Warrior Hikers program.

Around 4 on Friday afternoon, the weary walkers made their way down the mountain and up Union Street to the friendly sight of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 996.

After walking for hours on end on the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail that spans from Georgia to Maine, the five hikers were welcomed by Post Commander Luis Beveraggi and made their way to the bar for a well-deserved beer.

These AT walkers are on the Warrior Hike, a program established in 2012 to help veterans transition after returning home from deployment "walk of the war" through the therapeutic nature of the long hike.

Beveraggi said the VFW is here to support the hikers with food, shelter, and some conversation. He said it is incredibly important for soldiers to take some time off and "refit" before rushing back into the stresses of a job and responsibilities.

"You just need that time to reflect to refit yourself and to get your mind acclimated back into society," Beveraggi said. "You complete this walk for yourself and you are letting something go as you are taking something in."

Hiker Gabe Golden from Texas said this is exactly what this walk accomplishes

"It gives you the opportunity to think back on stuff and kind of go through it," Golden said. "When you are in a situation everyday where you have to get up, go to work, and run around you just don't touch it. This actually gives you the space and time to actually work through some stuff."

Hiker Caitlin Murphy from Maine said not many programs offer this kind of opportunity that allows veterans to communicate, yet provides all the space needed.

"Some veterans have trouble adapting back into society and you get a huge veteran population on the AT," Murphy said. "The incredible thing with this program is that you are with other vets, people who are dealing with the same stuff. They are around and available to talk, but it gives you the space if you need it."

Beveraggi said when veterans are finished with the hike, the program helps them look for work if needed, after they have some taken some time off.

Beveraggi said the hikers started in March and have been making their way along the trail. He said the community has opened its arms for these hikers. Friday night they dined for free at Desperados and had a warm bed at Howard Johnson before moving on to the next community.

The group agreed that even after witnessing the worst side of humanity, people who have helped them along the trail have helped restore their faith in people.

Hiker Dennis Newton from Alabama attributed this to "trail magic," which is unexpected kindness found along the trail.

"The trail itself has its own community, and it's not just about us. Everyone is meeting all of these great hikers out here and everybody is taking care of each other," Newton said. "All of this trail magic is going on ... they had a pretty pessimistic view at times and yet this is all about people doing things when you don't expect it."

Murphy, who has never been involved with the American Legion or VFW, agreed and said the kindness along the trail has truly been plentiful and unanticipated.  

"You sort of have the idea of a VFW being a bunch of old drunk dudes smoking at 10 in the morning ... but they have been incredibly welcoming with open arms and open hearts," she said.

Murphy attributed the program and others like it to those who came before her. She said Vietnam veterans had a difficult time returning home and because of this they helped implement programs like the Warrior Hike so all soldiers have an easier time returning home.  

She said the program can work wonders for veterans. Although it is not a replacement for medication or therapy, those with moderate post-traumatic stress disorder can really benefit from the program.

Golden said if any veteran is questioning whether he or she should join in on the walk, his answer is absolutely. He said many veterans with moderate PTSD are automatically prescribed mediation as a "quick fix" that isn't the best for some veterans.  

"This helps point people in the right direction of finding a long-term coping mechanism," he said. "It never goes away so you can ether self-medicate, prescription medicate the rest of your life, or find another outlet."

Newton welcomed people to take part in the journey. He said people can keep in touch on his blog or twitter feed.

Tags: Appalachian Trail,   veterans,   VFW,   

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