Photo: The 2015 Warrior Hike class set out for their thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail at Amicalola Falls on March 16.

Warrior hikers begin 2,168-mile journey

In 1948, Earl Shaffer became the first person to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Now at 2,168.1 miles, the journey is an ambitious mission in itself, but completing the trek wasn’t Shaffer’s sole mission. His intention was to “walk off the war” to forget about the sights, sounds, and losses of World War II.

It took Shaffer a little over four months to hike the entire trail. Recognizing that having to become reaccustomed with day to day life, and to set aside the training and instinctual reactions taught by the military as being no easy feat, following in Shaffer’s footsteps, Marine Corps Captains Mark Silvers and Sean Gobin turned to nature to help become reassimilated into life after service.

With their own understanding of the therapeutic impact long distance hiking has for veterans, Silvers and Gobin set out to establish the Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” Program, which is designed to support combat veterans transitioning from their military service by thruhiking America’s National Scenic Trails.

In March 2013, the first class of veterans made their way up the Appalachian Trail to begin their six-month thru hike from Springer Mountain, Ga., to Mount Katahdin, Me. Fourteen veterans made the first hike, followed by another 14 in 2014, and this year 11 veterans will be making the journey.

Since its inception, the Warrior Hike has continued to grow, according to founder Seth Gobin. “This year is different because we have more trails across the United States for veterans. We started with the Appalachian Trail, then added the Triple Crown. We now have the Arizona Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Florida Trail, Ice Age Trail, and Pacific Crest Trail.”

For 2015, 120 veterans applied for the hikes and a total of 27 veterans will complete one of the six trails for the Warrior Hike.

The hikers are scheduled to make their annual stop in Franklin this weekend as one of their 35 stops along the way. American Legion Post 108 and VFW Post 7339 will be helping sponsor the veterans in their journey and are inviting the community to attend a pizza dinner on Friday, March 27 with the men and women at 6 p.m at VFW Post 7339.

Then on Saturday, just after the Vietnam Veteran’s Parade in downtown Franklin, the American Legion Post 108 will be serving a barbecue lunch for the hikers beginning at 11:30 a.m. Each hiker will be presented with a “Quilt of Valor” for their service by the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild. The public is encouraged to attend both events and donations will be accepted to help the veterans in their journey on the trail.

“There is a large need for veterans returning home to go on a journey to clear their heads and put life into perspective before starting the next chapter of their lives,” said Gobin. “The Warrior Hike is the perfect opportunity for them to be able to do that.”