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A trek for fellow vets

Two former soldiers walk across swath of U.S. to raise awareness for veterans’ issues

Posted: January 21, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 21, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Anthony Anderson, left, and Tom Voss sit for a portrait at a VFW post in Canyon Country on Monday. Anderson and Voss are taking a break from a 2,700 mile trek on foot from Milwaukee to Santa Monica Pier to raise awareness about veteran's issues. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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Army infantry veterans Anthony Anderson and Tom Voss each celebrated two birthdays during their deployment to Iraq, neither realizing the depth of their wartime experiences until their transitions into civilian life. 

“You’re just young, and there’s a lot of expectations about what you’re supposed to do when you come back,” Anderson said during an interview with The Signal Monday at a Canyon Country VFW.

“Everyone feels like you went and did this extraordinary thing serving in the military during a time of war; then coming home should be the easiest thing to do. Really, it’s difficult.”

On Aug. 31 Voss and Anderson embarked on a 2,700-mile trek from Milwaukee to Santa Monica Pier to raise funds and talk to people along the way about issues affecting veterans.

Having reached Barstow, the duo took a two-day break from their trek to join a cookout celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Canyon Country Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6885. They will return to Barstow to finish the remaining 160 miles.

They expect to finish by Feb, 1, walking 15 miles a day until they reach their destination.

“We would walk for the few months prior to us starting to try to physically prepare ourselves, but there’s nothing you can do to physically prepare yourself to walk 20 miles a day except to go out and do it,” said Anderson, 30.

Both men served during their early 20s and found it difficult to handle traumas they experienced on the battlefield.The trek provided both an opportunity to find peace, as well as a mobile forum to talk about veterans’ issues and raise money for the organization Dryhooch America — a peer-to-peer support group for veterans based in Milwaukee — they said.

“I couldn’t sleep at night, so I’d just get a 30-pack and drink to pass out, so I could get some sleep,” said Voss, 29, of his transition back to civilian life. “You could only do that for so long before it starts affecting your life.”

Immediately following his return from the Army, Voss started school, got a job and an apartment and proceeded to live life “normally.” But he found he couldn’t let go of his experiences.

“I had no one to relate to. I felt like I was isolated,” he said. “No one understood what I went through.”

Anderson, having served two deployments, found similar difficulties letting go of his experiences and began to feel isolated.

“I got home, and five days later, I went back to work. I didn’t really take any time,” he said. “Like Tom, I had a lot of problems sleeping. Like Tom, I would drink a lot of beer to pass out so I could sleep.”

Despite his initial difficulties, he made the decision to return to Iraq for a second deployment. His family couldn’t understand. 

“I don’t know how to explain to my family, who’s very proud of what I did, that I have problems sleeping,” said Anderson. “I don’t know how to explain to them that I feel angry all the time, and I certainly don’t want to say or do anything that’s going to take the luster off of the pride they feel for the service I provided.

“So you don’t say anything. You keep it to yourself.”

Voss and Anderson first met at the Dryhooch America in Milwaukee. Both bound for California, they decided to take the trek together and have found moments of real peace meeting with other veterans, particularly those who served in Vietnam.

“Part of the reason we’re doing this walk is because the stuff they shared with us motivated us to say, ‘I don’t want to be 60 or 65 and as angry and pissed off as I am today,’ so the only way to change that is to do something about it now, as opposed to waiting,” said Anderson.

For the duo, the walk is a start. Their hope is to build a larger community in which veterans can come together and share their thoughts and feelings about their experiences with one each other.

Each person experiences war differently, they said.

“Someone could be traumatized from being ripped away from their family flying overseas, and that could be something that really affects them,” said Voss. “Whereas another guy can go through four or five car bombs, and that’s what does it.”

A blog about Anderson’s and Voss’s trek can be read at www.veteranstrek.com. More on Dryhooch America can be found at www.dryhooch.org. Donations can be made online.

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