Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
With more than 2.5 million veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and the Department of Veteran Affairs reporting that 20 percent of these veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, soldiers may not always have the opportunity to transition from their experiences.
Sean Gobin gained clarity and support that he wanted to extend to veterans across the country after hiking all 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail when he returned home from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2012, leading him to establish Warrior Expeditions. Gobin took the therapeutic effects he experienced firsthand on his thru-hike of the AT, to develop a network of experiences across the country to support combat veterans’ transition from their military service back into civilian life.
Warrior Expeditions provides veterans around the country the chance to disconnect from the stress of everyday life and to immerse themselves in nature and to “walk off the war.”
Gobin’s decision to hike the trail wasn’t the first time a veteran found solace on the trail. Earl Shaffer, who in 1948, told a friend he was going to “walk off the war” after World War II, finished the hike four months later to become the first person to hike the entire length of the AT from Georgia to Maine. Since its inception, Warrior Expeditions has grown to include the Warrior Hike which follows trails all over the United States, the Warrior Bike, and Warrior Paddle programs, all geared toward helping combat veterans return home.
Each year, the Warrior Hikers conquering the Appalachian Trail are welcomed to Franklin by the American Legion Post 108 and VFW Post 7739. Gobin organizes weekly trail town stops throughout the more than 2,000 miles of the AT, where locals give the hikers a hot meal and a chance to take a shower and sleep in a real bed.
The 2018 class of Warrior Hikers left Springer Mountain last week and are scheduled to stop in Franklin on March 24. The group includes 10 veterans, hailing from eight different states, who have served in Kuwait, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan and represent the Army, Air Force, Navy, and the Marines.
Frank Bartanowitz served in the United States Navy as an Arresting Gear Operator from 1991-2017 with deployments to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan. Bartanowitz’ hometown is Milwood, Ga.
Jason Batson hails from Henderson, Nev., and served deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan from 1996-2017 as an Infantry Mortarman with the United States Marine Corps.
Jovito Casanova spent 30 years in the United States Army as an Infantryman. Serving from 1987-2017. Casanova left his hometown of Richmond Hill, Ga., to serve deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq during his career in the Army.
North Carolina is represented in the 2018 Warrior Hiker Class in Richard Egan who is from Goldsboro. Egan served in the United States Air Force from 1998-2018, working with Tactical Aircraft Maintenance. Egan was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nathaniel Gage served as a Light Armored Vehicle Marine in the United States Marine Corps from 2007-2017. From Mount Pleasant, Texas, Gage was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
From 2003-2011 Dusty Hall served as a Combat Engineer for the United States Army, serving deployments to Afghanistan. Hall is from Virgie, Ky.
Jerry Meecee is from Luftkin, Texas, and was deployed to Iraq while serving in the United States Marine Corps as a light armored vehicle marine from 2001-2010.
Anthony Posuniak served in the United States Army as an Infantry man from 2001-2011. From Bangor, Me., Posuniak was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
For 17 years David Smith served as an Infantryman in the United States Army. During his service to the Army, from 1989-2006, Smith was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.
Daniel Tworkoski served in the United States Army as an Infantryman from 20009-2012. He was deployed to Iraq during his service and hails from Toms Rover, N.J.