By Katie Demeria
Six veterans started hiking the Appalachian Trail on March 17. On Friday they will pass through Front Royal, where local residents and supporters will be there to celebrate them.
The Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community, along with the Front Royal Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1860, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and Cooking with the Troops, are hosting an event to raise money for the hikers, who reached the area Wednesday.
The veterans started their hike through the Warrior Hike: Walk Off the War program. Alyson Browett, chairman of the Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community Committee and events coordinator for Warrior Hike, said this is the first year the event will be open to the public.
"This will be their first really big town event on the trail," Browett said. "They've been to some small town festivals, but nothing specifically organized for them."
The event will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the VFW Post 1860 in Front Royal. Suggested donations are $5, but Browett said larger donations are appreciated.
The hikers themselves are not working to raise money -- only events like Friday's are aimed at fundraising for them. Their only goal is to experience the trail and interact with other veterans.
Browett said part of the benefit of walking the Appalachian Trail is unplugging from daily life and reconnecting with natural surroundings.
"It gives you a sense of confidence and reliance on yourself because you can make it with, really, nothing," she said.
The community aspect is especially rewarding for veterans.
"The military is a family, it is a community, and a lot of veterans miss that," she said. "When you then become part of another community that is fairly similar, you get that same feeling. You know you're supported, and that these are friends for life."
The Warrior Hike program not only supports the hikers when they hike the entire trail, providing them with all the equipment they need, it also offers support in the job search after they finish.
The idea, Browett said, is to help them cope with the stress of having served after returning home, then help them take the next step in their lives.
"This is meant to benefit the participants, most of whom are combat veterans and most of whom do have post traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety and mental health diagnoses," she said.
Sean Gobin started the program after he hiked the entire trail in 2012. Gobin served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Browett said she hopes the event will spread awareness of both the good the trail can do for its hikers and what veterans need from their local communities.
"When they go into the trail towns they get to experience the extreme generosity of some of those communities," she said. "They get to meet people who appreciate them and their service, and that just helps them realize the world is not necessarily a scary or evil place."
The event will be held at 1847 North Royal Ave. in Front Royal. The veterans should be there by 5 p.m.
To learn more, go to www.warriorhike.com.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org