BREWER, Maine — On the third anniversary of the day Desert Storm veteran Blake Manz of Bangor put down the bottle of alcohol that was literally killing him, he and three others in recovery embarked on a walking adventure that they hope will spread awareness about surviving drug and alcohol addictions.
“Our message is recovery is possible and not only is it possible, but it can be a lot of fun,” Manz said just minutes before the group departed on the 3,000 Miles for Recovery walk, that will take them nearly across the country to Phoenix, Ariz.
“That is where Blake got clean and sober,” walker Jody Forrest of Newburgh said about the final destination for Team 3000.
The mission of the walk, which is actually a 3,186-mile trip according to the group’s Facebook page, is “to raise awareness and monetary donations for veterans with addiction and mental health issues.”
All four members of Team 3000 are in recovery for drug and alcohol abuse, and have a connection to the military.
“Jody and I are both kids of veterans and I’m a sister to a disabled veteran,” Winterport resident Betty Hauger said.
Manz is a six-year U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, and fellow walker Stephanie Babb of Bangor was in the Air Force for two years.
“I’m looking forward to the adventure, going to new places, and challenging myself,” she said.
Team 3000 left Bangor Area Recovery Network headquarters in Brewer at 9 a.m. Saturday and walked to the 200-year-old Garcelon House in Troy, where hosts fed them and gave them a roof over the heads for the night, Manz posted at about 9 p.m.
At about 1 p.m. Sunday Team 3000 posted, “We are all tired and sore, long day yesterday” as they made it to the Center for Environmental Arts & Humanities at Unity College, en route to South China.
“It should take us 126 days,” Manz said. “The plan is we all walk at the same time, but we have a backup plan” that includes a combination of walking and riding in the support vehicle.
“Either way, somebody from the team will always be walking,” Forrest said.
Team 3000 is scheduled to walk to North Monmouth on Monday, hit Lewiston on Tuesday and Gray on Wednesday. Their entire route is posted on their Facebook page. “We’ll be hitting military bases, VA hospitals, recreation facilities, churches along the way,” Manz said.
Hauger, who had a prior engagement, was at the kickoff and will be joining the team in North Monmouth. Vicktoria Brayman, 11, of Bangor was walking in her place over the weekend, and said she will rejoin the group after school gets out this summer. Her godfather, Sergio Ramos, is driving the support vehicle, which is hauling a popup trailer that Danny Webb at Webb’s RV is allowing them to use.
Computer Essentials of Bangor donated a laptop so Team 3000 can keep people apprised of their progress, Manna Ministries donated food, and Frank Spizuoco, owner of Maine Military Supply in Holden, donated three hydration backpacks.
“3000 Miles For Recovery will be around for a long time after the walk,” Manz posted. “We are opening a camp in Newburgh, Maine, called Camp Naretev. That’s veteran spelled backwards. The purpose of the camp will be to assist veterans to return to civilian life after a career or deployment to a combat or hostile zone.”
Too many soldiers come home with injuries, some that are not visible, related to their time in uniform, he said.
“We’re all on a journey to find out who we really are,” Manz posted on March 11 while telling his story about how he tried to kill himself three years ago with alcohol.
“I almost did it,” he posted. “I almost took a path that lead to the grave. But I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I called someone for help. Someone answered, someone came, and a whole team went to work on me.”
He ended his story by saying, “Some of us started later than others. Me, my journey’s just getting started!!”
Forrest said as the group walked outside that, “We’re leaving on his 3rd anniversary and coming back on mine.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified the driver of the support vehicle as Sergio Ramon. His name is Sergio Ramos. The story also identified Ramos as the father of Vicktoria Brayman. He is her godfather.