Kev, 35 is a resident of The Beacon, a specialist veterans support centre which aids single veterans who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness. Kev went into the Army at the age of 17 immediately after leaving school, serving with The Royal Logistics Corps and was posted to Germany at the age of 18. He was discharged from the military 14 years ago due to medical reasons, having missed a tour to Bosnia due to a snapped ankle and mental health issues. He went AWOL for 2 weeks in 2003 having been evicted from his property after being unable to pay the rent. Moving back in with his parents but with an alcoholic father and drug addicted brother, ‘home’ was not an environment in which he thrived, which lead to the subsequent admission to The Beacon, where has been a resident since August 2017.
I feel honoured and privileged to be part of this unique challenge and have the opportunity to help other veterans and raise awareness that there is support available – no-one should suffer in silence.
Currently awaiting medical discharge (imminent) from the Army where he served with the Royal Signals for 15 years, a job which he loved. Kemsley has struggled with multiple surgeries and ongoing physio having sustained repeated double shoulder dislocations – severely impairing his physical and sporting abilities, and thus his ability to remain within the Army. A tattoo artist from Kent, he is passionate about helping and encouraging other wounded, injured and sick to come forward to ask for help, and to shine the spotlight on those who like him, feel that they aren’t injured ‘enough’ to warrant support.
For me being part of The Walk Of America expedition is a mix of emotions, obviously I’m excited to be on this walk, and to have the opportunity to see so much of a country that inspires me. Unfortunately it also comes at the end of my career in the Army which has now been cut short due to medical discharge. I hope to be able to meet up with some of my American friends from the US Army and US Marine Corps that I’ve served with in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more personally to remember guys I served with from the US that unfortunately never made it home.
Jonny, 28 is currently a resident of The Beacon, a specialist veterans support centre which aids single veterans who are homeless. Jonny served with the Royal Anglian for 8 years. After being medically discharged in 2016 due to shoulder injury and mental health challenges, Jonny began sofa surfing immediately after leaving the forces as he had no home to go to. He served in Germany and Cyprus for 8 years and originally decided to join the Army at a young age to find a sense of identity, purpose and family, having been removed from his under police protection.
I am very excited to be given the opportunity to be on the Walk Of America team. As much as it will be amazing to explore America and visit some amazing places it will also give me the opportunity to highlight the support open to veterans in the UK that may be suffering in silence. Just because everything looks good on the outside does not always mean that everything is ok on the inside. It is very easy to put a front up and pretend everything is ok but through my own experience I know that if these issues are unresolved, they do come back and cause problems later in life.
Frankie was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and is the youngest of 10 siblings. Frankie signed up with the Army in 2001 as a member of the Puerto Rico National Guard and was assigned to the 92nd Manoeuver Enhancement Brigade. During his deployment to Iraq, Frankie was struck by an IED, and spent the following 10 years suffering with PTSD and a Traumatic Brain Injury. In 2008 Frankie hit rock bottom and attempted to take his own life, and was incubated for 30 hours. Realising that he needed to turn his life around, Frankie began volunteering for veteran organisations, and found therapy through music and art. An avid guitar player and artist, Frankie has started his own non profit in Puerto Rico, the Post Traumatic Art Foundation – offering therapy through art to other veterans in the community and working with the Pan Americano Hospital’s Mental Health Department. Frankie is also actively involved with community volunteering programmes with The Mission Continues as a Platoon Leader and works on projects with The Wounded Warrior Project, aiming to harness the veteran community in Puerto Rico which he feels is largely forgotten. Frankie has worked on relief efforts with Team Rubicon and WWP in the aftermath of Hurricane Imra which devastated the island.
There are a limited number of veterans in Puerto Rico or support systems for them, and taking part in this expedition means a huge amount to me as I feel that I can represent both them and future generations of veterans, bringing attention to their needs and struggles.
It will be a tough challenge, but so is dealing with the ‘invisible wounds’ - those sustained in and as a result of war. Statistics say that in the US alone we lose 22 Veterans a day just to suicide.
Walking every step of the way with my US and UK allied wounded team mates will be a unique experience and I am honoured to be taking part to represent so many thousands of other veterans who need the support of organisations such as Walking With The Wounded, The Bob Woodruff Foundation and The Wounded Warior Project.
Adele worked in Security Forces for 8 years before cross training into the AF OSI. Adele started in criminal investigations and then helped to start a European Anti-Terrorism Team, deploying throughout the US Central Command AOR. Adele then moved to Strategic Counterintelligence Operations, and whilst assigned there, deployed to the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate-Iraq. Adele was wounded on a mission outside the wire, when her vehicle was hit by an EFP (explosively formed penetrating warhead). Her partner Dan was killed along with the driver. Adele lost her right eye and sustained shrapnel injury to her left eye, along with damage to her left shoulder and sustained a moderate TBI and now suffers with PTSD and depression. Adele was forced to leave OSI due to her loss of sight, and transferred back to Security Forces again. Adele spend the last 2 years of her service in Colorado, retiring in 2013 after working for 3 years for DIA in the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy in Quantico, VA.
I am happy to support any organization that brings attention to mental illness. After I was wounded, I had amazing medical care in taking care of my eye and the reconstruction process with obtaining a realistic prosthetic. They also did a wonderful job getting my shoulder back to working, as well as it can. However, it took me four years to become diagnosed with my traumatic brain injury and PTSD with depression. In those four years, I felt like I was insane and I had no idea what was happening in my mind. Once diagnosed, I understood more of why I acted and reacted the way I did, to certain conditions. However, others don't always understand why I can't remember common things or react in a different way than they may. They especially don't expect a female to have sustained these injuries in combat. And I feel it is important people understand healing the outside physical wounds are sometimes a lot easier than coping with the emotional/mental injuries that are also sustained in combat.
Larry joined the US Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA where he was attached to the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion. Whilst in the Marine Corps Larry deployed 3 times, firstly being assigned to the security detail for the U.S.S Cole hours after it was bombed in the Gulf of Aiden, near Yemen. During his 2nd tour, Larry was part of the Amphibious Ready Group which provided immediate presence in the Pakistan /Afghanistan region post 9/11. His final deployment was to Iraq in 2003, and this would impact the rest of his life. Larry’s vehicle was hit when out on patrol and Larry suffers with PTSD as a result of that incident.
Larry has undertaken walks of over 2000 miles in the US already in memory of his friend 1stSgt Ed Smith and works and volunteers in VA hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, fire stations, police departments and salvation army locations. Larry was in Houston when Hurricane Harvey hit and this afforded him the ability to help with lending his coordination skills – working with rescue boats and trucks of supplies.
I’m happy to be selected for the team because it illustrates how important our friends in the UK are, not just in war, but the recovery afterwards as well.