Wood County’s pleasant, flat Midwestern countryside is playing a part in helping returning U.S. service members reintegrate into home life and fight post-traumatic stress disorder, and a Bowling Green VFW post is helping the cause.
Paul C. Ladd VFW Post Commander Richard Zulch said his post will welcome two veterans through-hiking the Buckeye Trail on Saturday as part of their Warriors Expedition journey. The Warrior Expedition is a veteran outdoor therapy program that supports combat veterans transitioning from their military service and fighting post-traumatic stress disorder by participating in long-distance outdoor expeditions.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Zulch said Monday. “It’s a great treatment for these young men or ladies, whatever the case may be.”
Zulch said military units used to have a long trip home after fighting a campaign overseas. During this journey home, service members would process and come to terms with their wartime experiences. But in today’s age of modern transportation, military personnel can find themselves home within a few days of serving in a combat zone, Zulch noted.
“Years ago, we called this shell shock. ... During World War I and II, and in Korea, our boys were transported by train, or boats, and they went with people they knew. The whole BG unit went at one time and served in (the) same place and did the same thing. When they came home, they had the same amount of time as downtime to settle, relax, coordinate with other buddies and peers, and talk back and forth. (It would be) maybe a couple weeks in transportation, instead of just hitting computer buttons (and redeploying),” Zulch said.
“Today, a guy can leave the country, unload his weapon, give it to the armorer, and (in) 48 hours come back home.
“Is this (program) good for these people? Yes.”
Bowling Green native Martin Strange, who served in Iraq as a U.S. Marine Corps infantry machine gunner, and Hamilton native Sterling Deck, who served in Iraq as a U.S. Army common ground station analyst, will stop at the Paul C. Ladd VFW, 719 S. Main St., for rest and relaxation Saturday and to tell of their adventures while hiking the Buckeye Trail. The two will be escorted from their trail stop to Bowling Green by the American Legion Riders.
Zulch said the actual time of arrival is unknown, as he’s awaiting a phone call about the location of Strange and Deck. The time will be posted on www.sent-trib.com when it becomes known.
“I’ve been instructed to have my phone on 24/7 to talk to these people and to coordinate with them,” Zulch said. “I know they just left Delphos, Ohio, last night. When they left Delphos, they were supposed to contact me. Everytime the phone rings, I think, ‘Aha, it’s them.’”
Spanning nearly 1,444 miles, the Buckeye Trail roughly circles the state as a large loop. The trail was envisioned in the late 1950s as a path from the Ohio River to Lake Erie. It later evolved into its loop form, branching both north and east from Cincinnati. Those separate branches meet in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park by Cleveland, completing the path to the lake.
The section that runs through Wood County begins in Waterville and passes north of Bowling Green before crossing I-75. The trail then turns northeast through farmland and along streams and rivers through Pemberville, Woodville and Elmore. From Elmore, the trail turns southeast west of Fremont and ends in Old Fort, before connecting with another section of the Buckeye Trail. The trail is marked by blue blazes.
The Paul C. Ladd VFW Post 1148 will provide Strange and Deck with room and board, food and camaraderie, Zulch noted.
He urges people to come out and support these veterans on their Warrior Expedition on the Buckeye Trail.
“We are going to try and do something like an ice cream social for them with some cake and ice cream, and sandwiches and things like that,” Zulch said. “We have rooms available for them at the Hampton Inn for their downtime. The Hampton Inn has provided the rooms free of charge for those two boys.”
Warrior Expeditions was inspired by the actions of combat veteran Earl Shaffer, its website notes. In 1948, Shaffer told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” to work out the sights, sounds and losses of World War II. Four months later, Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In 2012, after returning home from three combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Sean Gobin hiked all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Recognizing the therapeutic effects of long distance hiking, Gobin founded Warrior Expeditions to support veterans transitioning from their military service by participating in long distance outdoor expeditions.
Since 2001, over 2.5 million veterans have returned home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but many of them have never transitioned from their experiences, according to Warrior Expeditions.
“It is an honor and a privilege to host these two fine veterans. Their stories and their lives as war veterans are in itself both rewarding and heart breaking but it is because of these two fine men that gives us our freedom,” Zulch stated.