By Rory Brosius, Military Families Advisor
If you’ve been following the Biden Foundation’s social media feed this summer, you probably know that Dr. Biden is serving as the U.S. Expedition Patron for Walking with the Wounded’s inaugural Walk of America. Walking with the Wounded (WWTW) is a U.K.-based charity that supports a pathway for vulnerable veterans to re-integrate back into society and sustain their independence. They serve those who are without a home, socially isolated, struggling with mental health difficulties, or within the criminal justice system. During the Walk of America, three U.K. and three U.S. veterans are covering 1,000 miles in 14 weeks, trekking by some of the most iconic landmarks in the United States.
The walk is raising awareness around mental health challenges that face some veterans due to their service. Each of the six Walk of America team members have shared their stories of mental health and recovery and have candidly spoken about the barriers that have impacted their transition. If you don’t know the stories of the team members yet, I encourage you to visit Walking with the Wounded to learn more about these incredible individuals.
Earlier this summer, I had the honor of spending some time with the team in Los Angeles and San Diego. The evening before the walk officially kicked off, I attended a launch event hosted by the British Consul General in Los Angeles. Set in the back garden of the Consul’s beautiful home, local Walk of America supporters heard from the Consul General, as well as several of the team members before they stepped off on their journey. The team stood out from the crowd in their snazzy WWTW kit and spoke with the guests, sharing their stories and excitement for the walk.
During a particularly moving set of remarks, Major John Mayhead, a British Army veteran who walked with the team for the first leg of their journey, shared his personal story. After his return home from an especially hard deployment to Afghanistan, John and his family faced tough times as he struggled with his mental health. John highlighted that telling his story to others played a key role in his recovery. We are all hopeful that in telling stories like John’s along this summer’s route, individuals will understand that mental health is just as important as physical health and that there is no shame in seeking help when you need it.
The morning after the reception, the team set off, beginning the first leg of their journey at Dockweiler Beach Community Center. That night, I listened in as Dr. Biden and Vice President Biden called to offer their encouragement and thanks to the walk participants. It was quite an emotional call to hear—the conversation ranged from heartfelt thanks for the team’s bravery in sharing their stories to jokes about managing life on the road. The support staff sent us a great photo of the team, gathered around the speaker phone laughing and talking.
Just one week later, with the team wrapping up their first 100 miles in my hometown of San Diego, I dropped by their hotel for a quick visit. Armed with cupcakes and gifts for each team member, I spent a few hours with them before they headed off for their next leg in Texas. As I sat with Adele, Kemsley, and Kev in the lobby for a few hours, I heard about their mammoth first week which covered the beaches, deserts, and urban terrain of Southern California. I also got to know them a little bit better.
Adele, a U.S. Air Force veteran, talked about her love of cupcakes (score!) and told me about her brother, who would be joining the support staff later in the summer. Kev, a British veteran of the Royal Logistics Corps, explained his “Geordie” accent (which I had to Google). And Kemsley, who will soon conclude his tenure with the Royal Signals of the British Army, showed me pictures of his first trip to the U.S. years ago and told me he hoped to recreate some of the pictures during this summer’s effort.
It’s my job to know the stories of the organizations and individuals we work with. Staff members like me read biographies of program participants, learn about their families, and see their faces often without ever being able to meet them or talk with them in person. As a social worker and military spouse, that is one of the hardest things about my job — I wish I was able to spend time with every single person I learn about, but that just isn’t possible. Getting to spend time with this team and learn about their personal journeys has been an incredible opportunity for me, and one that I’m excited to continue.
Tune in next week, as Biden Foundation staff travel to Mt. Rushmore to meet up with the team and walk a day in their shoes!
Rory Brosius is a social worker, policy expert, and spouse of a Marine Corps veteran. She is the Biden Foundation’s Military Families Advisor and was previously the Deputy Director of Joining Forces at the White House.