Prince Harry-backed military veterans walk through Houston this weekend to raise money, awareness for mental health
They’ve walked on highway shoulders, sidewalks, streets and parks. They’ve endured both rain and triple-digit temperatures.
And they still have about 700 more miles to go.
Six military veterans — three American and three British —are walking 1,000 miles together this summer, stopping in cities and towns on their 12-week Walk Across America. This weekend, they’ll be all over Houston.
The team started walking June 2 in California and will wrap up in New York — at Ground Zero in Manhattan —by early September.
Backed by Prince Harry and organized by the British charity Walking With The Wounded, the trip is designed to raise money for non-profits that serve wounded veterans in the United States and Britain.
It’s also designed to open up a discussion about military service and mental health. The members of the team have dealt with PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other mental health issues.
“We’re walking for the wounds that aren’t visible,” said Sgt. Larry Hinkle, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. “You can see the amputations or you can see the burns. You can’t really see PTSD or TBI (traumatic brain injury).”
Hinkle, who lives in Houston, was deployed three times between 2000 and 2003. After the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen, Hinkle was assigned to the ship’s security detail. After 9/11, he was part of a Marine expedition unit sent to Afghanistan. And when the U.S. military invaded Iraq in 2003, Hinkle was part of that mission as well.
It was in Iraq that Hinkle’s armored vehicle was hit by enemy fire.
“That’s where my PTSD and my issues come from,” he said. “We lost our company’s first sergeant — I lost him, right next to me.”
Hinkle went through trauma, then survivor’s guilt and depression, which he said he combated with pain pills and alcohol.
“It adds up,” he said. “And it makes you realize: ‘Time out, something’s not right. I need to figure this out.’”
Hinkle got help for his PTSD and other problems, and now he wants to help open up the discussion about military service and mental health.
“We’ve got two guys on the team right now from the U.K. that were homeless” after their service, Hinkle said. They’re both now living in a facility provided by Walking with the Wounded, he said, “going through rehabilitation and getting their minds right.”
‘A healing walk’
The six-member team includes Hinkle, Army National Guard Cpl. Frankie Perez and Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Adele Loar, and from the U.K. military services Kev Carr of the Royal Logistics Corps, Kemsley Whittlesea of the Royal Signals, and Jonny Burns of the Royal Anglians.
“The reason I’m taking part in the Walk Of America is because in 2006 I was wounded in combat,” Loar writes on the team’s travel blog.
“I lost my right eye and my shoulder. And they fixed me up when I left the hospital and I went back to work. But it wasn’t until four years later that I was diagnosed with a brain injury, PTSD and depression. For all that time I just had no idea why I couldn’t remember anything,” she said. “I was losing my mind. I would just stay in my house and I wouldn’t want to leave because that was my only ‘safe place’.”
The walkers will be in Houston through Monday. Among other stops, they’ll visit a World War II memorial and the office of the British Consulate. On Sunday afternoon, look for them at Minute Maid Park. The group will be throwing out the first pitch at the Astros game.
Along the way, Hinkle said, the close-knit team has gotten to have some solid conversations about mental health with fellow vets, veterans’ family members, with regular civilians and with each other.
“This is a healing walk,” he said. “They’ve been there. I’ve been there, so we know where we’re coming from.”
The team has gotten plenty of attention on Texas roads and highways as they made their way down from Dallas and through Waco and all way down to Port Lavaca.
“You know Texas love — you know how that goes,” Hinkle said, laughing. “It’s been kind of cool to see the Brits light up, with all the honking and waving and people yelling out their windows, ‘You’re awesome!’ ‘We love you!’”
Hinkle said he wants to help eliminate the awkwardness and discomfort that surrounds mental health issues, especially among military veterans.
“It’s real — PTSD is real,” he said. “And there such a stigma behind it.” He’s been telling fellow vets to reach out to veterans’ nonprofits if they need help.
“You’re going to get the healing that you need being around the people that get you the most and understand where you’ve been,” he said. “You can’t put words on it, but that’s where the healing starts.”
In addition to Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, the team’s U.S. expedition patron is Dr. Jill Biden, wife of former Vice President Joe Biden, who champions military families.
Follow the Walk Across America online wwtw.org.uk/WOA or follow the team on Instagram: @supportthewalk.