Half-year deployments are nothing new for retired Marine sniper Daniel Dean, who endured three combat tours in Iraq.
“It’s checking my mind in, my body in,” said Dean who is a couple weeks away from to embarking on a six-month hike covering almost 2,200 miles of the entire Appalachian Trail.
“I’ve always wanted to, even in the Marine Corps during my deployments I always had a fascination with the Appalachian Trail,” said Dean, adding, “…most people don’t know, the first person to hike the Appalachian Trail, the whole thing was a World War II veteran who came home in the '40s and said, ‘I’m going to walk off the war.'”
Dean’s upcoming 14-state journey from Georgia to Maine is sponsored by the organization called Warrior Hike. He will step off on that trip through the “long green tunnel” along with nine other combat veterans, eight men and two women, from all branches.
“So (they’ll) be my family for the next six months,” Dean said with a smile.
In addition to a pack he plans to keep to 30 pounds, Dean will carry a message of awareness about the epidemic of military suicide. Numbers from the federal government peg the number at “22 suicides a day” among military men and women.
“It may be higher, a few states don’t even report it, so it’s 'around' 22,” said Dean, who helped lend his music and songwriting talents to a state wide campaign in Tennessee centered on military suicides that we first reported in our Service & Sacrifice series in 2014.
The veteran warrior will shoulder the memories of military friends, even a cousin and military veteran he lost to suicide. Both are helping motivate his long walk in the woods.
“I’m a firm believer in the outdoors, for me it’s my therapy,” said Dean, who will pay tribute with every step to his fallen brothers.
“I’m borrowing (my cousin’s) funeral flag to bring with me on the hike, so he’s going to be with me all 2,000 miles,” said Dean who plans to start his journey later this month on a symbolic day, March 21, or ‘3…2…1.’