DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – A cross-country expedition stopped in Dayton Tuesday as part of a transatlantic initiative to promote veterans’ mental health.
The Walk of America is the 2018 fundraiser for Walking With The Wounded (WWTW), a UK-based foundation dedicated to supporting vulnerable veterans and re-integrating them back into society after trauma.
This year’s walk partners a core group of six wounded veterans from the US and UK on a 12-week, 1,000 mile journey. The group started in Los Angeles on June 2nd and plans to finish in New York City on September 6th.
Frankie Perez, a US Army infantryman from Puerto Rico, said he joined the organization’s efforts after fighting his own invisible wounds.
“I found myself on a really long, long, dark road,” Perez recalled.
During a tour in Iraq, an IED blast dealt Perez a brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 2008, the soldier survived a suicide attempt.
“It was my lowest point in my life so far,” said Perez.
Many of the other members of the Walk of America expedition have suffered from PTSD and lost friends and loved ones to suicide.
UK veteran Kemsley Whittlesea said, “We put our lives on the line. To come back from war alive and then to take your own life is really sad.”
The allied forces came together to raise awareness for mental health under the leadership of Prince Harry and former second lady Dr. Jill Biden.
“As allies we fight together, we go on tour together. We’ve been fighting, so we should heal together as well,” said Whittlesea.
Tuesday, local supporters and service members joined the walkers in touring Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The group hopes its cross-country tour encourages communities to invest in mental health and de-stigmatizes help for mental illness.
“Seek help, accept that they need help – that’s the hardest part,” said Perez.
Whittlesea added, “Just to get rid of the stigma; this ‘if you’re in the military, you have to be tough’ (idea)… At the end of the day, you’re still human. Talking about it can keep people alive.”
To follow along with the Walk of America journey and support its mission, click here.