Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ex-soldier walks nation for military families

PALM DESERT, Calif. — Home from Iraq in August 2009, former Army specialist Troy Yocum was inspired by a fellow veteran who needed assistance but couldn't get it from non-profit groups overwhelmed with requests, so Yocum decided to literally take steps to help.

During what has been dubbed "Hike for our Heroes," Yocum, 31, is walking a loop around the country in hopes of raising $5 million and drawing attention to military families in need.

During his 16-month journey, which included his arrival in Palm Desert last week after walking 3,527 miles of his 7,000-mile goal, the Kentucky native has faced his share of obstacles. Kidney stones sent him to a hospital for nine days in Colorado, his RV has broken down more than a dozen times and his dog was temporarily sidelined with a bladder infection.

Along the way, Yocum has gotten married, climbed 12,095 feet along Colorado mountains and received more than 30,000 e-mails from supporters.

As of Nov. 18, he said, he had raised more than $105,000 for Soldiers' Angels, a non-profit group that helps servicemembers, veterans and their families, and given money to 14 military families in need.

"This dream I had in Iraq of walking across America and raising money and helping people, I didn't know if it would work," Yocum said. "But the fans of what we're doing really push me to keep going."

Yocum embarked on his charitable trek April 17 with his then-fiancée, Mareike, and his friend Terry Carmickle.

The couple — who met early last year on social networking site MySpace when Yocum was still abroad and searching for a potential tour guide in Germany — married May 2.

They then took their journey west, averaging about 21 miles each day on what they joke is their "honeymoon."

"I kind of just left an old life behind and started a new one," Yocum said.

Yocum and his team will begin their trip back east Friday, when they leave Palm Springs on their way to Arizona.

The "Hike for our Heroes" schedule calls for them to arrive in Washington, D.C., on May 11, 2011, before walking back to Kentucky by Aug. 15. Come talk and walk with Troy!!!

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