The old adage says if you want to understand someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.
What about 2,632 miles?
Two veterans are asking you to do just that; but don't worry, you can stay on the couch.
Veterans of Iraq, Milwaukee-native Anthony Anderson and Waukesha-native Tom Voss have teamed up with the organization Dryhootch to raise awareness for veteran's issues on one very long walk from Milwaukee to Los Angeles.
That's right, read it again, it says walk.
Voss and Anderson met at Dryhootch, a coffee shop that supports and employs veterans in Milwaukee, Madison and has a new location in Waukesha. After finding out they were deployed in Iraq around the same time, the two became friends and coworkers.
Voss, who is open about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said that one day he just decided he wanted to get away and go for a walk.
"I called Anthony to see if he had a ruck," Voss said. "He wanted to know what I needed one for. He basically came up with the idea to do this together and as a fundraiser for Dryhootch."
"Through the development we figured if we're going to get attention from people let's help veterans so our community can get a better understanding of some of the issues they face," Anderson added.
Voss, who picked LA because some friends he was stationed with now live there, said that he will take the semester off from his studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Anderson, who works for Dryhootch, got permission to take leave from his boss, but more importantly from his wife, 18-month-old daughter, and doctor before deciding to make the trip.
"He called me on May 2 which was a Thursday and basically by May 3 I had permission to go," Anderson said. "(My wife) understands the importance of this and not only how I will benefit personally but what we're trying to do for veterans. The money we are trying to raise for this place. She understands it's something bigger than me trying to get out of the house."
The journey will take them 2,632 miles to 107 cities. They leave on Aug. 30 and if they walk the planned 16 miles per day they will reach their destination by Jan. 31.
"Walking is going to take time. That's the idea. It's to take the time to be with yourself and really address the issues that I have personally," Voss said. "By walking you are really forced to just deal with it. You know where you have to go but the only way to get there is by foot so whether you like it or not you deal with it."
Voss explained that at Dryhootch he saw many retired veterans having flare-ups with PTSD because they had more time to think about their past. He hopes to address the issues now in hopes of having a better future.
"I was diagnosed with PTSD after my first deployment and like Tom said, you want to be able to take the time to address it. When you get home when you're young you need to find a job, you need to go to school, I had a wife so you don't ever really have that time," Anderson explained. "For me I couldn't sleep or communicate with my friends… For me, this will give me the opportunity with someone I trust who has had similar experiences to have that time and just get through and get answers."
The two will camp and carry everything they need in their rucks, or large backpacks. They will shower when they find running water and carry their food and water with them in donated items from Dryhootch and Veterans Trek supporters.
Voss and Anderson have set up stops in cities and said upon releasing the cities on their Facebook page they have already received offers of backyards and home-cooked meals, which they greatly appreciate.
Being out of the military for a number of years, Voss and Anderson admit they've had to start training to prepare for the daily treks. Separately they've built up their walking capacity and on Sundays have met to walk as many as 20 miles.
Will they get sick of each other? Maybe. But neither gentleman was concerned about the stressful situations of being with one person for an extended period of time.
"For me, I had to live with my platoon for three years straight with 30 other guys so it's not really that big of a deal. If we're having a bad day or need to get a way we'll just let someone walk up you know a mile ahead or so and we're still close enough to react if something happens," Voss said.
Anderson tagged on "And I'm already sick of Tom, so we're there," shooting a quick smile and letting out a laugh.
Help the cause
Voss and Anderson will leave Aug. 30 from Milwaukee. They will stop in Waukesha the first night, Delafield the second night and then move on to Farmington and Johnson Creek as they make their way through Wisconsin.
The two hope to raise money not only to offset their minimal expenses for food, but also to offer a substantial donation to Dryhootch to the tune of $100,000 at the end of their journey. The goal may be lofty, but they are using social media, blogging tools and good old word of mouth to create awareness.
"We want to work through our own issues but also give people who don't typically pay attention a better sense of what's happening with veterans. Also, what simple effort they would give and how far that effort would go in the life of a veteran," Anderson said. "Not every vet has issues, but every vet needs to be supported."
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