TWO formerly homeless veterans are back in Blighty after completing an epic coast-to-coast trek across the United States for charity.
Jonny Burns, 28, and Kev Carr, 36 walked 1,000 miles across America to raise money for Walking With The Wounded and highlight the issues faced by ex-servicemen and women.
The trip has had a profound effect, and both veterans have returned with a renewed focus on their futures. Burns now plans to move to America to work in law enforcement and Carr aims to work for a veterans’ charity.
Last year the two veterans found themselves homeless and are now living at The Beacon, a supported housing scheme run by Riverside, in Catterick Garrison in Yorkshire.
The two men took the trek as part of a larger group of six veterans – another Briton and three Americans. They began their ‘Walk of America’ in Los Angeles on 2 June and finished in New York on 6 September.
As well as raising $250,000 (around £190,000) for veterans on both sides of the Atlantic, the walk created a wider conversation around veteran mental health.
Each person taking part in the expedition has been physically, mentally or socially disadvantaged since serving. And, throughout the trip, they’ve shared their stories on social media.
For Carr, it was important to do the walk with his American comrades.
“I served alongside many Americans in Iraq; we were a family,” he said. “We’ve shared the same experiences and we now share the same challenges. I suffer with PTSD and I’m getting support for it. But many veterans – in the UK and USA – are suffering in silence. I wanted to be involved in the expedition to help bring this issue out of the shadows. We need to look after our veterans and make sure they’re getting the help they need.”
Burns said the trip had been a “fantastic experience”. “The support we got in Texas, in particular, was phenomenal,” he added. “People would pull over in their cars to come and shake our hands.
“We mainly stayed in hotels along the way but we had a week camping at Yellowstone National Park. We spotted a grizzly bear swimming just 50 feet away and another team member stood on a rattlesnake – luckily he was OK.
“I’ve lost many friends who suffered mental illness after leaving the forces. I wanted to do this walk in their memory and to highlight the difficulties we all face in our daily lives.”
The group covered between 15 and 20 miles each day, with some rest days in between. The route took them through states such as California, Texas, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Florida, Virginia and Tennessee. It ended in New York where the group laid a wreath at the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero.
The walk was supported by the Endeavour Fund and several corporate sponsors.
The expedition was organised by the military charity, Walking With The Wounded. Its expedition patron, Prince Harry, launched the Walk of America and met the three British team members in London before they set off.
Congratulating them after finishing the walk, the Prince sent a video message to the six, saying: “Every mile that you’ve covered, every step that you’ve taken has been a demonstration of hope and courage. I’m so grateful for everything that you’ve done and the stories that you’ve shared. Your honesty and openness is an inspiration to so many – you’ve carried the whole veteran community with you on this journey.”
John Glenton, executive director for care and support at Riverside, said: “We’re so proud of our residents for completing such a challenging trek across America. It’s really inspiring to know that both men have returned with renewed optimism and plans for the future and we’ll do whatever we can to help them achieve their goals.”