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Wounded vets from the U.S. and U.K. stop in Irvine during cross-country journey

Wounded vets from the U.S. and U.K. stop in Irvine during cross-country journey
To raise awareness for military veterans’ mental health, a group of veterans from the U.K. and the U.S. is participating in Walk of America, a 1,000-mile trek through 17 U.S. states. The expedition is organized by British charity Walking With the Wounded. (Photo by Lou Ponsi)

Adele Loar served as a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force from 1989 to 2010 and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan numerous times.

On Feb. 20, 2006, Loar was on a counterintelligence mission in Baghdad with two partners when an explosive foreign projectile struck their vehicle.

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Both of Loar’s partners were killed.

Loar lost her right eye and part of her shoulder. She was fitted with a prosthetic eye and her external injuries ultimately healed.

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“I was fixed immediately,” Loar said. “They gave me a pretty prosthetic eye and everything else but nobody dealt with my injuries that are invisible.”

Loar was referring to the suicidal thoughts, the depression and the brain injury that took four years before being diagnosed.

Now, she is walking for a cause.

Loar is among a team of six veterans — three from the United States and three from the United Kingdom — participating in the first Walk of America, a 14-week, 1,000-mile trek through 17 U.S. states.

The expedition, designed to raise awareness and funding, is organized by Walking with the Wounded, a U.K. charity that helps military veterans who struggle mainly with mental health issues to integrate back into society.

Along the way, the team will pass through major cities and stop at several U.S. landmarks and memorials, including the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., Fallen Warriors Memorial in Houston and Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The veterans are scheduled to complete their trek on Sept. 6 at New York City’s ground zero.

Walking with the Wounded has organized similar expeditions for U.K. veterans but the Walk of America represents the first time American and U.K. veterans are joining forces on U.S soil to raise awareness of the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological issues caused by combat.

“This walk is all about invisible injuries,” said Victoria Nicholson, expedition manager for Walking with the Wounded, who will be traveling with the six veterans. “None of our team have very apparent physical injuries.

“As the charity has grown in England, the increasing need for collaborative care and support and care for our veterans becomes increasingly apparent,” Nicholson said. “They train and serve together. They go to war together. They are injured together.”

British veteran Kev Carr, who served in the Royal Logistic Corps, is among a group of U.S. and U.K. veterans who are participating in the Walk of America.
British veteran Kev Carr, who served in the Royal Logistic Corps, is among a group of U.S. and U.K. veterans who are participating in the Walk of America. (Photo by Lou Ponsi)

The journey began June 2 at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey.

On Monday, the contingent of walkers and support staff toured the campus of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, the makers of the “World of Warcraft” video game, with its sister company Activision known for its “Call of Duty” video game franchise and support for veterans.

Even though she didn’t know her fellow U.S. veterans and U.K. counterparts, Loar said they had a strong connection.

“We instantly bonded like brothers and sisters,” Loar said. “I couldn’t be with a better crew for three months.”

The other two U.S. veterans walking are former Marine Sgt. Larry Hinkle and former Army National Guard Cpl. Frankie Perez.

As a Puerto Rico National Guard member in 2001, Perez was deployed to Iraq with the 92nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, when he was struck by an IED.

He developed PTSD and attempted suicide in 2008 before seeking help.

Hinkle, who also struggles with PTSD, was deployed three times, the first as part of a security detail assigned to the USS Cole hours after it was bombed in the Gulf of Aiden in 2000.

The British veterans are Kev Carr, who served in the Royal Logistic Corps, Jonny Burns, who served in the Royal Anglian Regiment, and Kemsley Whittlesea, who served with the Royal Signals for 15 years.

Former Coldstream Guards company commander John Mayhead, left, meets Prince Harry in London.
Former Coldstream Guards company commander John Mayhead, left, meets Prince Harry in London. (Photo courtesy of Walking With The Wounded)

John Mayhead, a former company commander in the Coldstream Guards, is walking with the team for the first two weeks before returning to England.

Mayhead struggled with PTSD after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I thought it shouldn’t happen to me because I’m a commander and why I’m here is to say that if you are a non-commissioned officer, if you are a leader, it’s OK. It’s OK to ask for help,” Mayhead said. “I’m here just to spread that word that [PTSD] is a wound, like any other battle wound. The quicker that you can get help, the better.”

Prince Harry celebrated the Walk of America participants in London, before the group traveled to the U.S.

“It’s that amazing experience that is so linked,” Mayhead said. “As Prince Harry said, ‘We fight together. We heal together.’ ”

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