To your question, Earl Schaffer, 1948. First person to walk the entire Appalachian Trail.
07 January 2016
This unit is getting hit hard by suicide. Nobody seems to know what to do. I have a humble idea...
The idea came to me during the wars. Sometimes when I took a break from Iraq or Afghanistan, I just went for a long walk. Not too long, just a couple hundred miles or so, but after finishing the walk, you are ready to go back to one of the wars.
For instance, up in Nepal, in the mountains, you are up there walking all day in the sunlight. There are no televisions, very little communications. Well, you can take a cell these days, and I took a sat-phone that often did not work due to the mountains.
Often I walked alone. Other times with someone I met on the trails until our paths split. I hired porters to carry my books and gear. Very cheap, and that left my hands free to practice photography.
And one day it occurred to me. This is what veterans need. A long walk in distant mountains, in the sunshine. When you finish at night, you shower under a bucket and eat fresh foods and read a book and wake up with your face planted in a book.
Eat breakfast and walk all day again. Do this for a couple or a few weeks and you are good to go.
So I thought, imagine if the military did this for returning units. Take the whole unit to Colorado and walk in those mountains for a couple weeks. Let them bring their families. It would be a great time.
For veterans, the VA could set up annual events like this in the Rocky Mountains, or the Appalachian trail. Invite all veterans and active duty during the best month, and just start out on the trail and walk a couple hundred miles. Welcome the public, the cops, firefighters, office people who need some fresh air.
Years ago, I read about a World War II veteran who said he witnessed terrible things in the Pacific war. So he went for a walkabout -- the entire Appalachian trail – about 2,000 miles. As I recall, he said that fixed his spirits. (If anyone remembers where this is written, please say. It may have been in a book about the Appalachian trail.)
I am sure veterans would feel great every day, and make new friends. They would not be sitting around remembering bad things. They would sleep at night because they would be too tired to do much else.
Maybe private citizens could arrange something more effectively. Have a big banquet at the end, speeches, maybe some celebrities, Aerosmith, that sort of thing.
I am no expert, but walking in the mountains made me feel good and fresh to go back to combat. Just a thought.
Postscript: After I first published this on Facebook, many people posted links to organizations who already are doing this.