Army veteran Thomas Peers of northern Maine will climb to the top of Katahdin on June 2 to begin a special journey — a 2,180-mile trek in support of his comrades, men and women injured while serving the nation.
From Katahdin, 32-year-old Peers will follow the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail south until he reaches the other end, at the peak of Springer Mountain in Georgia. Along the way, he plans to raise funds and spread awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization with the mission “to honor and empower wounded warriors” nationwide.
“A couple years ago, I had some hard times I came upon, and I had a lot of people help me out,” said Peers, who grew up in Presque Isle and currently lives in Caribou. “I pretty much want to do more than just hang around with friends — basically, do something that’s bigger than me.”
In each of the 14 states he passes through, he will invite wounded warriors and family members to hike with him and share their stories. Independent documentary filmmaker Zachary Dickerson, who served with Peers for two years, will be joining him on the hike to record the entire journey.
Peers calls the project “Hiking for Hometown Heroes.”
“Though I am not myself a ‘Wounded Warrior,’ I do have a deep appreciation and respect for the men and women involved in the program, and would like to help spread the word and help make a difference,” he said.
Peers served in the U.S. Army as a chemical specialist within the field artillery sectors from 2001 to 2010.
His personal definition of a “wounded warrior” is “anyone that has been involved with anything that was a selfless act and have returned with any type of injury, whether its physical and obvious or just the stress from it.”
Many service members suffer invisible wounds of war, such as traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder.
“I have a lot of friends who were injured, one in particular, more of an emotional and mental injury,” said Peers, referring to a man in his unit who was a responding medic to the tragic event on Aug. 6, 2011, when a helicopter was shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan, killing 30 Americans, including 22 Navy SEALs.
Peers aims to raise $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services for injured service members, from combat stress recovery programs and family support retreats. Any donations made to “Hike For Hometown Heroes” at support.woundedwarriorproject.org/individual-fundraising/hfhh will go directly to the organization.
To connect with people in each state, Peers (and a support team of family and friends back in northern Maine) will post updates on the “Hike for Hometown Heroes” Facebook page. A solar phone charger will enable him to consistently use his cell phone to check email and Facebook messages to plan meetings and fundraising events. And because many injured service members don’t have the ability to hike, Peers plans to visit towns near the trail to meet people and listen to their stories.
“Many people have been messaging me, asking where they can meet up with me on the trail,” he said. “Right now, I’d say probably 11 or 12 of the states are covered as far as having people meet up with me in that state to represent that area.”
Peers has always been interested in hiking the famous Appalachian Trail, and he’s excited to see the changes in landscape as he walks from his pine-covered home state to the orange groves of Georgia.
“I hunt, fish, hike, go four-wheeling — anything I can do to be outside,” Peers said. “I was born and raised in The County. That’s pretty much the lifestyle up here.”
The farthest Peers has hiked consecutively is 30-40 miles, he said, so he has been preparing for the long trek on all the Aroostook County trails he can find, including trails up Haystack and Quaggy Jo mountains.
“Right now, my biggest worry is the blackflies — just the annoyance of them,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time out in the woods doing all kinds of stuff. I’m pretty used to all the stuff that comes along with it, but you never get used to blackflies.”
He plans to complete his journey in December. The resulting documentary will support the Wounded Warrior Project, and all sponsors and donors will be credited in the film.
To learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org. And to donate to “Hiking for Hometown Heroes,” visit support.woundedwarriorproject.org/individual-fundraising/hfhh/.