Jacob Mills and two of his buddies are poised to embark on a great journey — a march across the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia that encompasses 14 states and 2,100 miles.
With nothing but the food, water and camping gear they can carry on their backs, they’re dedicating six months of their lives to Wounded Warriors, a project that is itself dedicated to honoring the changed lives of soldiers who returned from war in Iraq and Afghanistan with life-altering wounds.
Jacob is the son of Denton County Death Investigator Billy Mills.
Billy was a Marine, as was his father before him. He also was a police officer for much of his life. A few years ago, before coming to Denton County to work as an investigator in the medical examiner’s office, he spent a year in Iraq teaching police work to the Iraqis. So he was proud when in 2005 Jacob became a Marine.
Jacob was shipped out to Iraq in September 2007. While he was there, he earned two medals for going above and beyond the call of duty and was meritoriously promoted to corporal and then sergeant. Jacob was honorably discharged in 2010 and now is a full-time college student.
When he came home for Christmas, his buddies Mark Hafemann and Graham Martin approached him with an idea. They wanted to hike the trail to raise money for the organization Wounded Warriors. And they wanted Jacob to go with them.
Jacob thought of the 50 Marines who were killed while he was in Iraq and the 150 who were severely injured. He thought of one of his best friends, Scout Sniper Sgt. Matthew Attabe, killed in Afghanistan in 2010.
He said yes.
Mark spent a year in Iraq with the U.S. Army and now serves in the Army National Guard and is a full-time student. Graham’s brother is currently serving in the Army. Most young men seek adventure. These three sought adventure for a cause.
The Wounded Warrior Project is an organization by and for soldiers injured on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan designed to raise awareness of their challenges and of their courage.
The website, www.woundedwarriorsproject.org, is replete with stories and photos of soldiers who have lost legs and eyes, who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, who can’t forget the friends who died before their eyes. The site relates how we all can help.
Jacob and his friends began planning for a trip with the hopes of raising some awareness and some money for the project.
On June 1, they’ll fly to Katahdin, Maine, to begin the trek. They’ll hike along the Appalachian Trail, the first part of it rugged and steep. Every four to seven days they’ll have to visit a town to resupply, since they are carrying their whole support system in 25-pound packs on their backs.
Occasionally they’ll leave their sleeping bags packed for a night and rent a room where they can shower and sleep in a real bed. They hope to visit New York City along the way and stop by the World Trade Center Memorial. They want to see the war memorials in Washington, D.C., and visit Arlington Cemetery, where so many of their friends now rest.
Along the way, they’ll occasionally use a special camera that will provide a live stream online. Supporters can track their progress and leave messages for them at http://warriormarch2012.org.
They hope to reach Springer Mountain, Ga., by Dec. 1, and then they will fly home.
I’m going to follow Jacob and his friends along the trail on the blogosphere. I’m in awe of the challenge they have set for themselves and I’m so proud of them and young men like them who see a bigger picture than a college campus and a few beers on Friday night. Who risk their limbs and their very lives for their country. For us, in fact.
I hope you will follow along with them too. I’ll keep you updated.
This column is not my usual funny look at life, I know. But it is a look at the lives of three young men who matter. Who care. Who, in my book, are heroes.
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.