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Cross-country walk offers lessons for fundraising veteran

Allied News - 6/2/2018

Josh Marshall, 37, of Fort Atkinson, Wisc., set out April 10 for New York City, visiting with anyone who will talk with him about the need for suicide prevention and addiction rehabilitation programs for veterans.

"I was there," Marshall said, referring to his attempted suicide and long struggle with alcohol.

Marshall grew up in a military family, and then joined the Army. He served three years of active duty as a combat engineer and three years with the Wisconsin National Guard.

The military has a culture that is very accepting of alcohol use, he notes. "They don't worry about young soldiers using alcohol. 'If you can give your life for your country at age 18, why can't you have a beer?'" he said.

As Marshall struggled with his addiction, he nearly took his life. In that dark place, he decided that he had to do something.

"I never want to be in that place again," Marshall said. As a professional photographer, he had always wanted to go to New York City. Why not walk and promote organizations that support veterans? he asked himself.

After much preparation, he set out from his hometown. "It wasn't that I wouldn't accept rides, but I have walked about 10 to 15 miles per day," he said.

"I thought I could go 20 miles per day but learned early on that wasn't realistic."

"I have learned that there are a lot of good people in this country," he said, noting he experienced only a couple of negative folks.

When he got to Kankakee, Ill., he decided to take a bus to Fort Wayne, Ind.

"I had a uncle in Fort Wayne and when I looked at the map, I decided I should take the bus," he said.

"I had conferred with fellow vets via Facebook as I made the decision. One of them said that maybe there was someone on that bus who I needed to talk to. That made my decision."

He learned that he would probably never take a bus again. The bus arrived six hours late, which caused him to miss his connection in Chicago to Fort Wayne. It was a very frustrating experience, he said.

"Everywhere I went I talked to people about the need to find support for veterans with PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not finding support is what leads veterans to resort to suicide," he said.

"There is support out there. The best support is from other veterans."

He encouraged veterans to visit their local VFW or American Legion. He encouraged them to visit the nearest Veterans Administration health center.

"There is help out there and they need to realize that suicide isn't the right answer," Marshall said. "They can learn to have a fulfilling life."

He said that military spouses also need support so they can help their mates.

"They have no idea what their spouse has been through and are not equipped to deal with his struggles," he said.

Marshall came to the Grove City area by contacting an area member of Airbnb. When he arrived, he said he was going to walk from there to Franklin to see someone to check out the tick bites he had gotten in rural Ohio.

His host, Deb Anspach of Harrisville, said that she would take him to the Butler VA Health Center to get checked out.

While there they learned that the facility is the top VA research unit working on Lyme disease. Marshall said he was very impressed with the concern the doctor and staff had for him. He ended up having no signs of Lyme disease.

After an evening and morning of rest and relaxation, Marshall was going to head east to the Allegheny National Forest and then north to Buffalo and to Niagara Falls.

"I have seen many state parks and historical sights along the way," he said.

He also found that when you are walking you see things very differently than when you are driving or even as a passenger in a car.

"I was crossing this small, rural bridge and stopped about halfway across," he recalled. "I took time to look at the stream as it rolled over the rocks. Most people who pass there every day probably have never seen this beautiful scene."

Marshall's adventure had a rocky start with equipment failures. He now realizes that he should have planned better and definitely should have tested his equipment before heading out for his more than 1,000-mile trip.

After spending time with his aunt and uncle, Marshall had a change in attitude and perspective of his adventure. On the advice of his uncle, he began to slow down a bit to take in the historical sites and vistas along the way.

Through his blog, he is sharing a multitude of photos that show some of the history of small town America. He also has set up a Go Fund Me page (www.gofundme.com/1000-miles-to-start) so that at the conclusion of his walk, he can make a nice contribution to Mission22, a veteran's suicide prevention organization and DV Farm in Gilsum, N.H., a long-term rehabilitation facility for veterans dealing with addiction.

After a visit to DV Farm, Marshall will head south through the Catskill Mountains to New York City.

"The best place to be a photographer is in New York City," he said. "I am going to give it a try."

He plans to be there by July 3 so he can celebrate the 4th of July in the city.

His blog is: www.experiencettlphotography.com


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