MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- For the past five months, two Milwaukee-area Iraq war veterans have been walking nearly every day. The journey has taken them 2,600 miles from Milwaukee, to the outskirts of Los Angeles. The duo is now just one week away from completing the cross-country trek.
It is clear that despite spending five months together and walking thousands of miles, Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson are in high spirits.
"We haven`t argued yet or fought. It really brings back like camaraderie from the military. I mean, he`s sucking the same as I am along this trip so, you know. we both have good days and bad days and we`re just trying to get through it,"
The first of more than five million steps to Los Angeles began in August in Milwaukee. Both of the men are veterans of the Iraq war. Both served in the Army, and both have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In fact, the original purpose of the trek was to battle the mental challenges that come with the diagnosis -- and it seems all that time walking is paying off.
"I`ve started to notice changes or at least my ability to focus on stuff in Nebraska. You have these long stretches in between towns, you really have an opportunity to reflect and just kind of work on yourself as you`re walking between cornfields,"
Though it started as a journey of inner rebuilding, it developed into much more.
The pair used their feet as a vehicle to raise money for Dryhootch -- a Milwaukee non-profit with the goal of helping all veterans recover from the effects of war. They also took time to raise awareness of veterans issues as they passed through more than 100 towns.
"We`ve had people email us, send us messages on Facebook and say like `look, I`ve been home for several years. I haven`t sought out any help. I`ve struggled every day`-- whether it was with emotional issues or substance issues and after hearing about us now those people are going into treatment or they`re talking to people,"
However, as positive as the purpose is, the trek came with many obstacles.
"Some days are harder than others. Like on Thanksgiving for instance, we were staying with an Iraq veteran that we met and his family, so we were able to have like a nice Thanksgiving dinner. For Christmas we were eating Chinese food out of boxes in a hotel room and I got a chance to Skype with my family so I could see my daughter open her gifts,"
The worst -- running into winter before they could get out of the mountains.
"Before we left we said, if we hit bad weather if one of us gets hurt, one of us gets sick and we need to take a ride, we`ll do that. When we got down into southern Colorado it was sixty degrees the day we got there. The next day it was four,"
That forced a tough decision -- push through the dangerous climate or accept a 300-mile car ride to get them out of harm's way.
"You have to understand in that stretch no one lives there. There`s nothing there. It`s just open prairie with mountains in the distance,"
"This was not an opportunity for us to say `ah, I`m feeling lazy today. Let me go take a ride for a few hundred miles.' It was `I can`t sleep outside in negative ten or fifteen degree weather,'"
Now, Tom and Anthony are less than a week from the finish line at Santa Monica Pier -- the end of Route 66. As the two reflect back on their journey, there's one moment that rises above the rest.
"I`m just kind of sitting on a cliff by myself. That was probably one of my favorite days, favorite locations on the trip. That was by Monument, Colorado,"
"Being up on the mountain and just kind of taking time and feeling the sun and feeling the breeze and all these different things and you can start to feel emotions again that are appropriate, that are desired and not just anger and anxiety that you`re trying to not feel all the time,"
When the two vets began their trek, they had a fundraising goal of $100,000 for Dryhootch. Right now, they're about $20,000 shy. After completing the journey, they will head back to Milwaukee.
A "Welcome Home" celebration will be held on February 15th at 1:00 p.m. at the Milwaukee County War Memorial.
CLICK HERE to learn more about this effort, via the Veterans Trek website.