628-mile awareness march arrives in Midlothian

MIDLOTHIAN — A chorus of car horns followed a small group of veterans and friends walking down Chris Kyle Memorial Highway into Midlothian Thursday morning.

U.S. Air Force veteran Ken Meyer, who deals with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS), set out on a 628-mile walk starting in his hometown of Conroe, Texas and plans to arrive at his journey’s end at Chrystal Beach for the Texas Frog Fest 2016. Both his walk and the festival benefit the Lone Survivor Foundation.

The founder of the foundation, Marcus Luttrell, wrote a book about his personal story that became the movie “Lone Survivor.” The foundation offers veterans and their families retreats and a chance to learn how to handle the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to the foundation’s website.

Meyer said he planned the short pause in his march to meet with friends and groups in DFW who have supported his mission.

“I started this for me, but it got big so quick,” Meyer said, relaxing after the 5-mile ruck from the Cowboy Church of Ellis County to R.L. Harris BBQ in Midlothian. “This all started because I was watching the news and I was worried about the way society was going. But I’ve found out that is such a small percentage of people. There are a lot of good people and patriotism out there.”

Representative of 22 Kill, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness about the suicide epidemic and educate the public on mental health issues such as PTS; Heroes for Healing based in Dallas; employees of Semper Fi Heating and Air Conditioning in Carrollton that volunteered to drive a tail truck and trailer behind the walkers; and DeSoto’s Farmers Assisting Returning Military (F.A.R.M.) gathered for the 5-mile trek. Several members of the Midlothian Chamber of Commerce met up with the walkers for lunch.

Meyer, who left the military in 1994 and received help from the Lone Survivor Foundation to handle his own PTS, said the walk gives him purpose to help other veterans understand they are not alone and provide funds for them to get help.

“My mission is to spread awareness of the 22 veterans who die of suicide each day,” he said. “My aim is to raise awareness but also to send some folks to Lone Survivor and perhaps reduce that 22 number.”

He personally knows of four veterans who have committed suicide since he began his walk three weeks ago, Meyer said. One was a friend he had been urging to find help for PTS, the others were friends of friends.

He refers to PTS instead of the clinical name Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, because it helps people better understand the struggles and symptoms veterans face and prevent the idea of a disability from throwing up walls too quickly, Meyer said.

About one in three veterans who saw combat have some type of trauma, either physically or mentally, that produce symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, tension, hyper-vigilance and hyper-arousal reactions including anger outbursts, according to the foundation’s website. Untreated PTS can lead to other problems like panic disorder, substance abuse, depression and suicidal feelings that often lead to family, work and social issues.

When Meyer first came home and told his family he wanted to walk 628 miles to raise awareness for PTS, his 17-year-old daughter Alison Meyer said the family thought he was crazy. But after a month of planning, he set off on April 16, she said. He hadn’t walked a mile of that alone, she said.

“I told him ‘You’re crazy, but if you are really going to do this, I’m coming with you,’” Alison said.

Alison and her older brother Blake have alternated walking with him, with their mother Julie driving back and forth between Ken’s latest stop and home where she is holding down the home front. Blake, 19, plans to join the U.S. Army at the end of the summer.

Alison, an active soccer player and homeschooled, said the sport is good conditioning for the 19 miles – 22 miles her father walks each day on his cross-state journey.

Sometimes the Meyer have company along the route, especially when they are near a larger city or at a special event like the one in Midlothian, but they often walk alone in between, she said.

Ken said walking the Chris Kyle Memorial Highway was a must on his list of places to walk on his trip. The highway was named after Kyle, a Midlothian resident and U.S. Navy SEAL with with the most sniper kills in U.S. history, after he and Littlefield were murdered in February 2013.

“I wanted to pay my respects to Chris and the Kyle family, but also to Chad Littlefield and his family,” he said.

Besides an American flag, Ken carries two service branch flags with him as he walks and invited those he meets to add names to them, Ken said. One is for anyone to add the names of active service members or first responders, the second is for the names of veterans or those who were killed in action.

“I want these flags full by the time I get to Chrystal Beach,” he said.

Anyone can follow the progress of Meyer’s walk on Facebook at Never Quit March for PTS Awareness or make a donation to his walk for the Lone Survivor Foundation at https://shar.es/1e3e8g.

 

Contact Bethany Kurtz at 469-517-1450 or email bkurtz@waxahachietx.com. Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BethanyKurtzMidloMirror or on Twitter @bethmidlomirror.