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Soldiers find way to walk off the war on Appalachian Trail

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Warrior Walk

On Sunday, six military veterans currently hiking the Appalachian Trail took part in a Q&A session and cookout at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Back row left to right, Todd Rogers, U.S. Marines; Jesse Swensgard, U.S. Air Force; Matthew Donnelly, U.S. Navy; Joseph Young, U.S. Army; Cecil Thayer, U.S. Marines; Cosmo Brown, U.S. Army. Front row, Andre Weltman, Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park; Joe Harold, Appalachian Trail Museum; Tara Gettig, Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

COOKE TOWNSHIP — Most of Joseph Young’s life has been spent serving in the military, and he became used to the routine and regiment. The transition back to civilian life, however, has been a struggle.

“I left a part of me in Iraq,” the 62-year-old Orange, Massachusetts, man said.

Young spent more than 40 years in the Massachusetts National Guard, serving two tours of duty in Iraq, including one in 2005 at Abu Gharib when the prison came under attack.

“I came home with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), anxiety,” Young said. “I got home and just started drinking myself to death to forget ... (I was) not good a husband and just not a good father, you know.”

He said he had nights that he would reach under his pillow searching for his pistol and roll over for his rifle before realizing he was at home in bed with his wife.

Young said his outlook changed when he discovered the Warrior Hike while spending one of many sleepless nights searching the Internet.

The nonprofit group was founded in 2012 by U.S. Marine Capt. Sean Gobin, who walked the entire 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail with Marine Capt. Mark Silvers after serving three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The trek began as a way for Gobin to decompress and process his time at war, and as a way to raise money to benefit disabled soldiers. In the two years following Gobin’s journey, the Warrior Hike has become a way for soldiers to “walk off the war.”

Young was one of six veterans to pass through Pine Grove Furnace State Park Sunday on their way from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail.

Accompanying him Sunday were Todd Rogers, U.S. Marines; Cosmo Brown, U.S. Army; Jesse Swensgard, U.S. Air Force; Cecil Thayer, U.S. Marines; and Matthew Donnelly, U.S. Navy. All six of the men served in the Middle East.

According to the Warrior Hike website, historically soldiers had a long journey home after war, giving them time to process their wartime experience. The group hopes to give back to soldiers this journey of reflection lost to modern transportation.

Fourteen members of the group started the hike in Georgia on March 17, but through injury and lost interest only six remain.

Young’s journey almost ended nearly a month ago due to injury. He fell and hurt his hip. After walking in pain for more than a week, Young decided to take some time off the trail and be with his family in Massachusetts.

Sunday was the first day he rejoined the group. He said the past two weeks at home have allowed him to begin rebuilding relationships with his family and pick up the pieces of his life.

“If this was as far as I could have gotten and the doctors said I couldn’t go back on the trail, I’d have been very happy with the fact of what I did,” Young, the eldest and most talkative member of the group, said.

Brown chuckled as if Young took the words out of his mouth.

“I feel the exact same way,” He said.

All the members hike at their own pace, meeting up for events like the one Sunday hosted by the Appalachian Trail Museum, Pine Grove Furnace State Park and Friends of Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

“Everybody walks the same trail, but we all have different stories,” Donnelly said.

While they all hike at different paces and have different experiences to work through, they all are searching to reclaim a part of themselves lost to war.

“I left a part of my soul in Iraq,” Young said. “Hopefully when I get to Maine I will have found it.”

Sunday marked the unofficial half way point for the warriors.

Each member has been keeping a trail journal as a way to remember their trek.

The Warrior Hike website, and its Facebook page,, keeps tabs on the group and two others hiking separate trails across the county as they make their own personal journey.

“It’s not about the miles,” Young said. “It’s about the journey.”


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