The Marines of Combat Logistics Battalion-451 (CBL-451) in Charlotte, N.C., walked retired Gunnery Sergeant Roy "Wes" Brady out of the unit’s compound on March 1, sending him on a cross-country hike to raise awareness for conditions plaguing U.S. veterans.
On Monday, he stopped to rest in Conway.
"Every once in a while, I count my blessings," Brady said. "I was in two combat tours, and I survived. A lot of guys didn’t come home to their parents, and some came back wounded, some without limbs."
Brady served in the Marine Corps for 22 years as an infantryman and an infantry platoon leader, training the Iraqi army and police force during his deployments between 2006 and 2007. He retired in 2013.
"The biggest challenge was training the army and police to understand how important it is to take care of their own country instead of us coming in and doing it for them," he said.
Now, he wants Americans to understand why he is walking and what they can do to help.
He said he hopes to raise money in support of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries as well as those who need prosthetic limbs and those at risk for suicide.
He chose to walk for Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge (CWVC) of Tarpon Springs, Fla., because he liked what they do.
"After I retired, I traveled, vacationed, saw places, but I felt like I needed a routine. I was used to the military routine," he said.
"I wanted to do something that was positive for the wounded and those parents. CWVC supports the veterans, and being in that program, you get challenged. They train together for each challenge and get veterans into the mindset that they’re no different from anyone else."
CWVC began in 2010 after U.S. Navy Captain David Olson met Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Brennan, who worked out regularly despite having suffered cardiac arrest, multiple fractures and traumatic brain injury during an explosion in Afghanistan in 2008. Brennan returned to the U.S. a double amputee.
Olson’s goal for CWVC was to heal and inspire returning veterans through research and training.
"Roy was in massive training for this, walking a lot of miles, working out and trying to help his endurance," CWVC Communications Director Darcel Schouler said of Brady’s preparation for the journey.
She said he now walks 20 to 25 miles per day while carrying a 65-pound pack on his back.
Though he strained his back over the weekend, Brady said he is not going to let it keep him from moving west.
"What’s unique about Roy is that he’s doing this strictly on his own," said Dwight Witcher, former commandant of the Department of Arkansas Marine Corps League.
"He doesn’t have a support vehicle, so we’ll do anything we can to support him."
Brady said he has also received support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Patriot Guard Riders, thanks to CBL-451 Family Readiness Officer Kati Toney, who reached out to the organizations on Brady’s behalf.
"I have cerebral palsy, and I grew up always wanting to wear the uniform, knowing that I couldn’t," Toney said.
For her, finding organizations to help Brady began as a part of her job, but then she learned that she and Brady had been classmates throughout high school.
She said she didn’t recognize Brady at first because he was going by the name of "Roy" instead of "Wes," which is the name she knew.
She realized who he was when she saw his full name on Facebook.
"We started talking about old teachers and ROTC instructors, and then it became much more personal," she said. "In my heart of hearts, I’m right there with him. The least I can do is help make sure he’s okay along the way."
Schouler said Brady’s fans are looking out for him, too, offering rides, a place to stay, food and water.
He also consults with local police to find the safest routes through each town.
"It’s so good to see people helping other people, all because this 22-year Marine Corps gunnery sergeant decided to walk across the country," Schouler said. "It renews your confidence in the human spirit."
Brady said he is resting in Conway for a few days before leaving for Oklahoma, and he plans to walk through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before finishing his walk at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
He had raised more than $6,000 for CWVC at last count, Schouler said, but the amount is much higher now.
She said he wanted to raise enough money to pay for an entire program, but when he learned that $10,000 was all he needed, he said he would not walk across the country for that.
His goal, she said, was to raise $100,000 by the time he reached California.
As for spending so much time alone on the road, Brady said he has learned a lot about himself.
"You know yourself more, you talk to yourself, you have second thoughts," he said. "What keeps me moving are the people who come by and see me and the history.
How did these guys in Korea and Vietnam fight with this pack on their back?
"But it’s not just about myself or the Marine Corps. I’m representing all vets in all services. It’s for all those guys."
For more information on CWVC or Roy Brady’s Walk 4 Warriors, visit http://combatwounded.org/.
To donate, visit http://combatwounded.org/walk/.
(Staff writer Jessica Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 505-1277 or on Twitter @jmthauser.
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