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Waukesha man's Veterans Trek story may see the light of day

'Almost Sunrise' documentary features his efforts and his Milwaukee colleague

June 2, 2014

It was almost a year ago Waukesha native Tom Voss and Milwaukee native Anthony Anderson publicly talked about a trip they were to take to Los Angeles.

Mind you, it wasn't your typical vacation with a picturesque voyage through the windows of an airplane or a scenic adventure on an epic road trip. No, this was a 2,632-mile walk.

It's the type of thing that is bound to gather attention, and in this case that attention extended beyond a news story in the Waukesha Now (issue of July 18, 2013). A documentary crew shared part of their trek, and their travels are recorded in the film "Almost Sunrise."

Like the veterans themselves, the film also remains on a trek: Before it can be produced, funding needs to be found, and time is running out. (Keep reading.) But the film-makers can draw inspiration from the story they're telling.

The trek

Last year, the two Iraq war veterans created Veterans Trek, a mission designed to help them face their own issues of returning from war while raising money and awareness for veteran's issues and funds for Milwaukee-based Dryhootch.

Voss and Anderson met at Dryhootch, a coffee shop that supports and employs veterans in Milwaukee, Madison and Waukesha. After finding out they were deployed in Iraq around the same time, the two became friends as well as co-workers.

Last year, Voss opened up about his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 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 at the time. "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.

The two traveled more than 2,600 miles through rough terrain and sometimes even rougher weather.

They left on Aug. 30 from the Milwaukee War Memorial in a sweltering heat and arrived in Santa Monica with no road left on Feb. 1.

"Getting our feet conditioned was key. Basically, from Milwaukee to Omaha was grueling physically. After that, it was more weather than physical issues," Anderson said.

Anderson went through about five pairs of shoes and lost 80 pounds during the trek. The two grew long beards that became part of their recognizable look and met people and saw things along the way that changed them.

The documentary

That's what the documentary crew saw, too.

Michael Collins, a New York-based director, saw the story of Anderson and Voss as they were raising money before their trek and knew he wanted it to be his next film.

"I realized there were so many challenges the veterans community and their families were facing that I was just not aware of. I realized there was a big gap between our communities and I wanted to do something to bridge that gap," Collins said.

"Documentaries for me are most effective when they are a character driven story where you can walk in someone else's shoes for a while and have an experience you wouldn't otherwise have access to do find out what they are going through."

Through the generosity of a backer, Collins and a film crew were able to meet up with Anderson and Voss and milestones in their trip. They also spent time talking to people along the way and others affected by veterans' issues such as PTSD.

"I would be in touch with them all the time so we could really cover the whole spectrum of their trip. They were walking through every kind of terrain, meeting all kinds of people, sometimes isolated and sometimes in communities that were coming out in numbers," Collins said. "I wanted to get a sampling of the entire experience. I wanted to be there as much as possible and I didn't want to miss anything."

Anderson said that the crew didn't interfere with his healing and he knew the project was helping to spread their message even further and long after the trek is over.

"It's important for the non-veteran community to understand what going to and coming home from war is like for the war fighter and their families," Anderson said. "The doc crew didn't just follow the two of us. They interviewed the veterans we stayed with, the families influenced by war and veteran suicide. I want their voices to be heard. They didn't interfere and they didn't ask us to do anything unnatural. I think overall it'll help a lot of people."

A film-funding trek

To make sure the documentary can be produced, however, there's still some funding required. The production team, Thoughtful Robot, has started a Kickstarter Campaign which as of presstime had raised just over $60,000 of its $70,000 goal to get the film released.

The film only has until Tuesday, June 10, to raise the funds.

"I want to get it out there in the world as quickly as possible because I think it could make a real difference in peoples lives. I see how many lives were touched just by Tom and Anthony going on this trek, so imagine how many people we could affect with this film," Collins explained.

The title for the project, "Almost Sunrise," can be searched on Kickstarter.com. The film also has a website, www.sunrisedocumentary.com, soliciting support for the production work.

"They were moving toward a new day, and that's where the idea of where the sunrise came into place," Collins said of the project's title.

"Anthony said the whole time they are walking west, as they walk toward the setting sun but when they get there to the ocean they are going to turn around and be moving again toward the rising sun and we'll see if when we get home we've had that transformation we are hoping for. When he said that it really painted a picture in my mind of the promise of hope that comes from that."

Stepping onward

The trek may not be over for Anderson and Voss.

Both are back to work and have made multiple appearances bringing attention to veterans' issues. Anderson even admitted that the trek may happen again.

"Both Tom and I will do Milwaukee to L.A. again for the five-year anniversary," Anderson said," and we want to do future treks to helps vets and their families."

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