U.S. Army veterans Shawn White and Tom Bielecki, along with U.S. Marine Corps veteran Kevin Black, set off to hike the entire Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail on April 12 as part of the Warrior Hike’s Walk Off the War program.
Along the 2,650-mile journey, they will hike through 25 national forests.
They recently passed through Plumas National Forest and stopped in Plumas County, California, where they were welcomed by the local community and invited to participate in the Mohawk Valley Independence Day festivities. The warrior hikers attended all of the weekend’s festivities, including a special recognition ceremony honoring all veterans that followed the Independence Day parade, appropriately themed “Honoring Our Veterans.”
“The warrior hikers rode in golf carts with (more than 50 local) veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, and recent conflicts,” said Ann Taylor, a realty specialist for the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region and member of the Portola Rotary Club that hosted the hikers. “The thing that impressed me was the great respect (the community) showed these veterans. They each seemed so moved by the ceremony offered after the parade, and it made me proud that I was a part of their experience and their journey home.”
Plumas National Forest employees volunteered their time to shuttle the warrior hikers to and from the trail.
The veterans’ six-month trek is part of the Walk Off the War program sponsored by the Warrior Hike in partnership with the Pacific Crest Trail Association. This is the first year participants hiked the trail. The program focuses on outdoor therapy supporting combat veterans transitioning from their military service back to civilian life.
“The thing that I think is really exciting is that the Pacific Coast Trail provides a platform for transition and life-changing experiences and an opportunity for healing and growth,” said Beth Boyst, trail coordinator for the Forest Service. “It is wonderful that the association and the Forest Service have been able to support activities for the Warrior Hike.”
The Warrior Hike provides participating combat veterans with the equipment and supplies required to complete a thru-hike of the trail; coordinates support in the form of transportation, food, and lodging with veteran organizations and community groups located along the trail; and assists veterans with future employment opportunities through the program’s numerous partners and sponsors.
The Walk off the War program was started in honor of Earl Shaffer who, in 1948, 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.