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Hiking for disabled vets

Military men take the 'long road' for comrades

Military men take the 'long road' for comrades

September 19, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - For one former U.S. Air Force technical sergeant hiking the Appalachian trail, the route from Maine to Georgia began after the scars of war left their mark.

Just like the trail, the road to recovery can be long and arduous.

Craig Fitzgerald, 29, a New Hampshire native, and his friend, David Wilcoxen, of Georgia, passed through the area Monday night as they continued their trek along the Appalachian Trail, which they said they hope to complete by Veterans Day. The pair, who both served in the Air Force, said during a phone interview that they are trying to raise awareness and collect funds for disabled veterans.

For Fitzgerald, who suffered serious injuries in combat before leaving the military in 2004, the hike represents the start of his new life.

"We also felt that it's symbolic of the road that a lot of people and that I faced when I came home. I mean, there's a lot of ups and downs through the mountains, and it's (almost) 2,200 miles, and it's a long road, and the veterans face a long road when they come back," said Fitzgerald, who now lives with his wife in Las Vegas. While his wife still serves in the Air Force, Fitzgerald said he is working as a civilian for the military and going back to school.

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Wilcoxen, 27, originally of Illinois, said he and Fitzgerald hit the road July 16 - just six days after going on leave from the Air Force. Since then, his enlistment has ended, he said.

According to Wilcoxen, military veterans and "young kids" returning from combat have shown the pair plenty of support throughout their hike. Some have even joined the journey, Fitzgerald said.

At one point, Wilcoxen said he and Fitzgerald marveled at a bald eagle in Pennsylvania.

"It was kind of symbolic of America, the United States," Wilcoxen said.

For Fitzgerald, the opportunity to help surpasses the impressive sights he and Wilcoxen, who became friends while in the military, might see along the way. So far, he said, he and Wilcoxen have each lost 20 to 25 pounds.

According to Wilcoxen, they were nearing the $20,000 mark in donations awhile ago. According to their Web site, www.trailtorecovery.org, supporters have donated $18,778.75 electronically. The goal is $100,000, the Web site states.

"Our hope is that we will see a bunch of magnets on cars and ribbons on trees, and we hope that people will take that support one step further and do a monetary donation and help these veterans out there," Fitzgerald said.

With just about an hour before dusk, Fitzgerald said he and Wilcoxen still had to hike about 10 miles to Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

"So, we'll go as far as we can in the daylight, then we'll turn the headlamps on and keep pressing forward," Fitzgerald said.




How to help Trail to Recovery



Craig Fitzgerald, who left the U.S. Air Force after being seriously injured in combat, and his friend, former staff sergeant David Wilcoxen, of Georgia, are hiking the Appalachian Trail to help wounded veterans.

Trail to Recovery will raise money for the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, a charity that provides services to wounded veterans.

To donate or for more information about the hike, go to www.trailtorecovery.org or send checks to Trail to Recovery, c/o Craig Fitzgerald, P.O. Box 750877, Las Vegas, NV 89136-0877.

For more information about the coalition, go to www.saluteheroes.org.

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