BASE NEWS: 3,300-mile walk boosts warriors

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CLARKSBURG, W.Va. | The presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has stirred fierce nationwide debate. One 50-year-old grandmother has looked beyond the debate and embarked on a 3,300-mile coast-to-coast journey dedicated to supporting wounded warriors, veterans, active-duty military members and their families.

Ruth Adkins began Troopwalk 2009 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on Memorial Day and expects to end at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego in late September or early October.

Mrs. Adkins is traveling through Virginia and West Virginia into the heartland through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Kansas, then into the mountains of Colorado, Utah and Nevada before reaching California.

Troopwalk aims to raise awareness and funding and provide support to alleviate the transitional problems encountered by returning veterans and their families. It also seeks to address the needs of thousands of veterans of past conflicts who languish alone, invisible and in many cases are forgotten.

Mrs. Adkins, a native of Columbus, Ohio, heard stories of her father’s Korean War experiences during her childhood. She earned a degree in business administration from Franklin University in Columbus and is working on a master’s degree in organizational management from Colorado State University.

Her three children - Christopher, 31; Amanda, 29; and Joshua, 20 - all live in Ohio, as do her granddaughters Makayla, 10, and Jasmine, 8.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks compelled Mrs. Adkins to do something to help those combating the nation’s enemies. She began by writing to more than 300 deployed soldiers, sailors and Marines that she adopted as pen pals. Yet, she still felt that this was not enough. She heard the stories of hardship shared by a co-worker whose Marine son had been wounded in Iraq.

“These stories greatly inspired me to want to do more, to assist wounded warriors, veterans of all conflicts and their families,” she said while resting after a day on the road in Clarksburg, W.Va.

Last July, Mrs. Adkins created Inspiring Alliance Military Support Network (www.inspiringalliance.org), a nonprofit organization in Phoenix dedicated to serving the transitional needs of service members and veterans of all conflicts and their families in the areas of employment, business creation, medical needs, financial emergencies, housing and education. Mrs. Adkins discovered there was a multitude of serious problems among veterans.

“The stories are heartbreaking,” she said. “There are returning disabled veterans who are losing their homes and cannot find work, and discharged military families who have no place to live, no employment and have only minimal assistance for subsistence living because there are no real viable transitional programs. There is a tremendous need for a massive public awareness effort to bring the plight of these veterans to light. I am worried that these heroes are becoming invisible to the public, much like the maligned and forgotten homeless Vietnam veterans.”

Mrs. Adkins, a cancer survivor and a woman of faith, pondered and prayed about what steps to take. “When you are concerned about the needs of our veterans and their families, witnessed their suffering firsthand, you are first filled with compassion, then the spirit moves and inspires you to act,” she said.

Mrs. Adkins is operating on a shoestring budget and has traveled 350 miles through a combination of walking and riding. In Preston County, W.Va., members of the West Virginia Army National Guard, local residents and veterans riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles greeted and cheered Mrs. Adkins as she walked along Route 50.

She visited veterans in the nursing care unit at the Louis A. Johnson VA Center in Clarksburg, accompanied by Wesley Walls, the facility public affairs specialist. Mrs. Adkins said she visited three terminally ill elderly veterans - Col. James Adams, a Korean War veteran, and Christos Draotoulos and Doris Nicely, veterans of World War II.

“These veterans … are proud of their service to our country, and they told me they would do it over again to preserve our freedom,” Mrs. Adkins said.

“While I’m grateful for the support I do receive, my biggest frustration has been the current lack of national support and involvement. I am very confident that as the word spreads about Troopwalk, more Americans will catch its spirit and support our veterans.”

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