Warrior Hike participants visit Walnutport VFW Post 7215
ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Mark Silvers, Commander Bruce Jones, Auxiliary and District 20 President Karen Bandzi, Sean Gobin and District Commander Steve Cales with the sign that pleased the two visiting men.
When Captains Mark Silvers and Sean Gobin entered the Walnutport Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7215, they were introduced and shook hands with everyone at the gathering.
Commander Bruce Jones said the gathering was for two brave men who are hiking the Appalachian Trail. The purpose of the Georgia to Maine hike was to raise money for the Warrior Hike to provide adaptive vehicles for disabled veterans. The Veterans Administration pays part of the cost but on average $5,000 has to be paid by the recipient.
Sean Gobin thanked everyone for coming out and supporting the project. Recently he and Mark Silvers concluded their active duty with the Marines.
Both were platoon commanders: Silvers in Afghanistan and Gobin in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the hike, both plan to get masters' degrees at the University of Virginia.
Silvers said they saw a lot of guys coming through Camp Leatherneck who would have died in previous wars but medical advances are bringing them home alive but injured.
They wanted to hike the trail, said Gobin, but needed a good cause.
"We talked about how the hike could benefit the injured," he said.
They are both members of the VFW and thought they could stop at VFW Posts along the way. Research went into current veterans organizations. The adaptive vehicles seemed like a useful project.
Just over $19,000 has been raised and they are trying to decide who deserves a grant the most.
Texan Jerry Reid of Operation Military Brace said the Warrior Hike could fall under its umbrella so donations would be tax deductible. 100 percent of all donations will go to grants.
Gobin said they got started with a web site, www.warrorhike.com, and lucked out when a Rhode Island senator helped spread the word. Media coverage along the Trail has also been helpful.
They received some endorsements and freeze-dried backpack food. FRS supplied energy drinks.
They visited the Appalachian Trail Conservancy where two board members met them. They were told injured veterans are planning the trip next year.
They were asked if they met any wild animals along the Trail. They heard something in the brush and saw a baby deer that walked up to Gobin. It licked his leg. Silvers said they tried to feed it a granola bar. When they walked away it tried to follow, but cried when it couldn't. That was at the rocky area (Bake Oven Knob) west of Lehigh Gap.
Pennsylvania has been nice to us. We've been staying with friends, Mark said, but they carry tents and there are trail shelters. During the day when it rained they just kept going.
They walked four to 29-1/2 miles a day.
Larry Reece, Commander, Department of Pennsylvania VFW, said, "Thank you for serving your country. We're proud of you. It's wonderful what you are doing. You make America what it is."
The Ladies Auxiliary to R. W. Fritzinger VFW Post 7215 presented each of the men with a coin reading Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and on the reverse it read, "We thank you for your service and pray for your continued safety."
Donations were received from District 20, $500; VFW Post 509, $100; ValveTech Sales and Service, $50; Post 7215, $500, Department of Pennsylvania VFW, $500; Ladies Auxiliary to R. W. Fritzinger VFW Post 7215, $100; and $175 had been donated via the collection jar on the buffet table. The Slatington Historical Society gave each a plaque featuring a flag.