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Feb-05-2014 14:17printcomments

Iraq Vets' Amazing Cross Country Trek to California

Both Voss and Anderson served in the Army, and both have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson
Special thanks to City Watch LA

(LOS ANGELES) - Two Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans have followed the footsteps of a small handful of veterans who have ‘taken to the open road’ to raise money for respective veterans organizations and to help people understand the scores of issues that plague veterans as they try to readjust to life back home.

Tom Voss (29) and Anthony Anderson (30) donned their hiking boots and headed west from Wisconsin on a 2700-mile journey that would take them to California’s Santa Monica Pier. After five months, Voss and Anderson arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday and were greeted by dozens of supporters. Milwaukee’s County Executive Chris Abele flew to Los Angeles to accompany the men on the last few miles of their journey to the Pier.

Their arduous trek began on August 30, 2013 with an event at the County War Memorial in Milwaukee. Their goal was to raise money for www.Dryhootch.org, a Wisconsin based non-profit, that assists veterans with the challenges of returning home after war. 

Prior to their departure, County Supervisor Abele personally donated $10,000 to their cause with the promise of an additional $10,000 when Voss and Anderson made it to Santa Monica. Abele, a staunch supporter of veteran’s rights, had lost his own grandfather, a submarine commander, in WWII. 

“Veterans issues have always been close to my heart. I’ve had the honor of supporting a number of veterans groups over the years and what Tom and Anthony have accomplished is nothing short of amazing,” Abele said.

Both Voss and Anderson served in the Army, and both have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Initially, the voyage across several states was a personal effort by Voss and Anderson to come to grips with some of the mental challenges they faced with PTSD. In more than 100 towns, the two men shared their experiences helping others to understand PTSD and what it means for the veteran returning home after war.

Along the way, several people offered food and lodging to the men in support of their cause.

One veteran, Charles Black in Arizona, chronicled their walk. “I followed them through blisters, long days, sleeping in cemeteries, and winter storms in Colorado. My mission was to pick them up on December 31st treat them to a nice New Year’s Eve dinner, a place to sleep, shower and then drive them back to continue their walk. I would be repeating this process daily until they reach Needles California. By the time I bid them farewell in Needles, CA I will have driven approx. 1,500 miles transporting them. I cooked them 13 meals and had 2 great weeks of visiting and spending time getting to know these guys,” he wrote.

Anderson mentioned a few of the symptoms he had that led to his PTSD diagnosis. “I had a lot of anger. I was emotionally numb, couldn’t talk to people- my interpersonal skills were rapidly diminishing. I drank a lot of alcohol trying to pass out just to sleep,” he said.

Anderson served in the Wisconsin Army National Guard from 2002-2008. He deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the 256th Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from Louisiana and with the 105th Cavalry Regiment from Wisconsin in 2007. He volunteered for his two deployments to Iraq (2004-2005 and 2007-2008) for several reasons because he said, “It was my duty.”

Anderson said he participated in convoy security, security patrols, raids, area clearance operations, and also provided security for the first democratic elections in Iraq since the US invaded the country in 2003.

Voss was deployed to Mosul, Iraq having been awarded a slot in the scout sniper platoon.

Voss explained, “As a scout sniper, my mission was to move far forward of the rest of our unit (undetected by the enemy) to provide information to our headquarters and covertly attack long-range targets if ordered to do so. My time in Mosul was one of the most dangerous times in the war, as we were attacked daily with roadside bombs, suicide car bombs, sniper fire, mortars, and rockets.  The toll of deployment was high on our platoon with the loss of our platoon sergeant and squad leader, who were both killed in action. I was also fortunate to conduct several scout sniper missions with the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment), the Army’s most elite helicopter unit.” (Source: http://veteranstrek.com).

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD afflicts almost 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans. Approximately 50% of veterans affected by PTSD do not seek treatment. Many lose families, homes and jobs because of PTSD. On any given night, between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless, most of whom suffer with PTSD and/or Traumatic Brain injuries (TBI). Veterans nowcommit suicide at the rate of 22 per day or almost one per hour. It is difficult and often impossible for veterans to receive help from the Veterans Administration (VA) in a timely manner.

The challenges for Voss and Anderson did not end with their 5-month road trip but Anderson considers himself blessed. “One of my goals was to be a better dad and a better husband and when you’re not feeling the appropriate emotions, that’s a problem. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I can do that.” Anderson has been married for 10 years and said his PTSD has greatly impacted his marriage. He described his wife as very patient. “If our roles had been reversed, I would not have had the patience that my wife has,” he said.

Veteranstrek was supported by many businesses, organizations and individuals and raised nearly $80,000.00 for Dryhootch and awareness of Veteran issues.

Both Voss and Anderson should be applauded for their service to our great country and for their continued efforts to help other veterans.

● For more information, please visit Dryhootch.org and http://veteranstrek.com/.

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and works with the United States Justice Foundation in defense of Veterans. Katharine Russ can be reached at: Katharine.russ@charter.net)

Special thanks to City Watch LA

http://citywatchla.com/8br-hidden/6397-iraqi-vets-amazing-cross-country-trek-to-california

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