GSW Chris Kinnard meets up with "Walk Across America" in Colorado to help veterans
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Posted by: Marie McRae
Special to the Sky-Hi News
Almost every day since April 28, David Roth has woken up at 4 a.m., put on a pair of running shoes, eaten a large breakfast, and started walking west. His journey began on the beach of Atlantic City, and will end when he reaches San Francisco.
There have been awesome days on the road, like when he walked down Berthoud Pass feeling on top of the world; and there have been not-so-good days, when biting flies left welts all over his face. But quitting has never crossed his mind, because there’s too many people depending on him. Route For The Brave - Walk Across America is raising funds to build a House of Healing for military families during times of loss and transition, equipped with a PTSD center. They have raised about a quarter of the $3 million needed, and are looking for a donation of land to build on.
This 3,091-mile journey is also bringing awareness to the 20 veterans who commit suicide every day in the U.S., most within three years of returning to civilian life. That number is down from 22, but it is still far too many for Helping Hands For Freedom, a nonprofit that supports military families dealing with death, deployment, and loss. But walking is only part of the task – public appearances and talking with people along the way takes up every minute of his day.
“We walked into One Love restaurant in Fraser on Saturday,” recalled Roth, “and there was a man there that I struck up a conversation with. I told him, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and he hadn’t even told me yet he was a veteran … I just knew. He had PTSD, and he had driven here from Chicago because that city had too many ‘triggers’ for him. He was alienated from his family, and he broke down while he told me his story. I think it did him good to talk about it and know civilian people really care about veterans. I hope he gets a hold of our organization for help. And this happens multiple times a day!”
Roth is actually a police detective from Indianapolis, not a military veteran, but he knows how military duty can put strains on a family. His second son is in the Navy, and has been deployed several times. It takes his entire extended family to keep it together when he’s gone. Not all troops are lucky enough to have that family support, and that’s where Helping Hands For Freedom (HHFF) comes in.
HHFF may help a struggling military family out with rent, car payments, or repairing a broken appliance, or provide tickets for a family to enjoy a baseball game together. The focus is on strengthening the family unit, providing youth mentoring, and filling in the gaps that government misses.
HONORING GOLD STAR MEMBERS
Each morning of his walk, there is a dedication to a veteran or Gold Star family member. The term “Gold Star” dates back to WWI, when families flew a flag with a blue star for each member serving during a time of conflict. Today, Gold Star includes all family members who have paid the price of freedom.
On July 11, Roth dedicated the day’s walk to Chris Kinnard, who had driven to Fraser from Colorado Springs to walk alongside him. Chris’ first husband, James Edward Kinnard, was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He was wounded in combat and died in Saigon at the age of 20 when Chris was seven months pregnant.
Political storms were brewing in the late 60s, and she didn’t feel supported or appreciated during that contentious time in our country’s history when she needed it most. She got involved with the Gold Star Wives program to help other wives deal with these crises.
Roth is surrounded 24/7 by his support team, who make sure he and the Americans who walk with him are safe. They deal with the everyday ins and outs of the walk and its mission so that all Roth has to do is walk and talk to folks.
Rod Smith, co-founder and President of HHFF and an expert in non-profits, joined Roth walking through Colorado. A former wide receiver for the Raiders and Chiefs, Smith attributes his success to a teacher who brought him to school early for tutoring during his last two years of high school. HHFF’s CEO, Darin Fishburn, has also been assisting on the road with Roth – even missing the birth of his first son in May.
Roth took the four months off without pay, but the day before he left, 68 of his fellow officers donated a day of their vacation time to him so he could keep his pension and health insurance during his walk. The generosity has continued every day since then. He and the entire crew were treated by Sarah Sable and Steve Hamilton of Sports Massage Therapy in Fraser.
Shadowcliff in Grand Lake provided the entire crew with lodging, and local teacher Tallie Gray arranged for a boat ride for the crew. Gray and Roth were friends in high school, but hadn’t seen each other in 29 years.
HHFF is a small, tightly run nonprofit organization with an average of 85 percent of donations going directly to help Gold Star family members. To find out more about you can donate, visit routeforthebrave.org or call 720-481-0414.
Shown above: Kevin Whinton, David Roth, Tallie Gray, Rod Smith, Chris Kinnard, John Thelen, A.J. Taylor, Darin Fishburn.