Hiking for a Cause

On the trail from Maine to Georgia, three young men made a quick stop at The Wall in Washington, D.C. Zach Day, Mark Hafemann and Graham Martin have been hiking the Appalachian Trail since June and plan to keep moving all through October. Day is hiking to raise funds to fight veteran homelessness and Hafemann and Graham are hiking to raise funds for Wounded Warrior Project.

Day is an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran who served on a combat tour to Southern Afghanistan from July 2010 to July 2011. After completing his Army active duty obligation, Day needed a new challenge – and a worthy cause.

Graham Martin, Zach Day and Mark Hafemann at The Wall.

“I wanted to choose a veterans-based issue where my efforts would help as directly as possible,” Day said. “What more direct and immediate way is there than to take a vet who would be sleeping under a bridge and put a roof over his head?”

Veteran homelessness is a pressing and, according to Day, somewhat overlooked issue. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, veterans make up one-third of homeless adults. On any given night 67,000 veterans are homeless and over the course of a year approximately twice that many experience homelessness.

Day estimated that he had raised about $10,000 so far for the Hoosier Veterans Assistance Fund (HVAF) of Indiana.

Hafemann is also a veteran who served a year-long tour in Iraq. Martin’s brother currently serves in the Army. The two had heard of Wounded Warrior Project and were impressed with the work they do. In both cases, 100 percent of the money raised goes directly to the charities.

The issue of veteran homelessness is especially pertinent to Vietnam veterans; early half of all homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.

“I’ll tell you this, I’m super grateful that Iraq and Afghanistan vets get the reception we do when we come back, with open arms,” Day said in an interview with the Hendricks County Flyer. “I’m surrounded primarily by Vietnam and Korean War vets and these guys didn’t get the same reception, so I’m self conscious when I get special treatment because if anyone deserves it, it’s them. I have the utmost respect for the veterans before me. I know I have to get attention for this because I’m the vehicle drawing attention to the issue of homelessness in vets, but I’m self conscious because there are a lot of guys that haven’t gotten recognition having been through 10 times what I have.”

Along the grueling 2,200-mile trail, the three men have created a bond similar to that found in the military.

“In combat you go through common challenges and sacrifices; on the trail it’s the same thing,” Day said. “We wake up together, hike together, we’re cold and hungry together.”

The three start their days around 7:30 a.m. each day. Just before arriving in D.C., they completed the one-day, 43.5 mile, 4 state challenge.

Jan Scruggs and Zach Day

“The hardest part is knowing you have so many more miles to go,” Hafemann said.

Even so, they agreed the trail was a good place to decompress.

“Nature is healing. It’s a good place for veterans,” Martin said.

You can follow Day’s blogFacebook and Twitter and follow Martin and Hafemann on their blog.