Beginning today, 15 September 2019, the applications for the spring 2020 Camino are available.
A 550 mile pilgrimage on the “Camino de Santiago”
On or around 1 April 2020, the group of Veterans who are selected will begin walking from Saint Jean Pied du Port, France. The journey will require approximately 35 days and averaging about 15 miles walking per day. Including travel days, you can expect to be away for about 40 days. We will walk beyond Santiago de Compostella to Finisterre – “The end of the Earth.”
VOC will provide your boots and backpack, all travel expenses and a daily per diem to cover lodging and food.
If you are still reading – and still interested – this is how you qualify:
Be a military Veteran from any coalition nation
Completely and legibly fill out the application form for consideration by the selection committee
Have a valid passport or applicable identification card to permit travel to the EU
Have 40 days available
Be able to converse in basic English
Understand that this is not a vacation
If you meet this criterion and would like to apply, email VOC using the “Contact” tab on this website. An application form will be emailed to you.
Applications must be returned by 2400 EST, 15 November 2019.
A phone interview will take place after the application is received and an independent selection committee will evaluate all applications and advise the VOC board of directors which applicants are recommended for participation.
Selected Veterans will be notified by 15 January 2020.
This blog was contributed by my dear friend Brenda. We first met while on a dogsledding trip for Veterans and have been close friends ever since. She joined us on the Camino and was gracious to share her thoughts…
I searched for the
words to describe the Camino – the problem is, this didn’t feel like an
adventure to share. It is one that must
Better late than never
and better to try and fail than never try at all…
For 30 days we
traversed mountains, rivers, grassland, farmland, scree, gravel, boulders, dirt
We overcame rain,
snow, hail, sun, pain, blisters, sleepless nights and… loneliness, ignorance,
hate, love, distractions, luxuries and obstacles.
We found simplicity. Beauty. Equality.
Mostly, we faced our
demons and found ourselves. We learn who we are away from the world, yet
closer to the real world – this
separate little cult-world lacking fakeness, media, and societal rules.
A little deeper, the
Camino is a metaphor for life. You set
an end goal of 500 miles and just head west.
Some days you have distractions, heartbreaks, and find it hard to see the
destination. Eventually, with one foot
in front of the other, every day, you arrive where you are supposed to be. Goal
achieved. Yet, as soon as you get there…
you have a midlife crisis wondering what is next. You hold on and walk to Finisterre and have
the same anxiety at the end. Eventually,
you decide to be an adult and return home – to your normal life – changed.
So, if you’ve done the
walk – you know what I’m saying. If you
haven’t, this oxymoron just makes no sense.
But, here’s my description for those you have not yet walked these 500
Each day was
simple. You wake up, grab your bag and
then you walk. A lot. Then, you get hungry and stop at the first
place you see for food; you say “Buen Camino!” to all the others you see walking
in the door. Repeat. Then, you walk
until you stop. You pay for your
room. You shower & prepare for
tomorrow (to include washing clothes, drying today’s and personal hygiene). Finally – you sleep! Then repeat.
In this simplicity,
you will find beauty – it is impossible to miss. Every day has its own picturesque
moments. The way the sun kisses the land
is incredible. The rain drops glistening
after a storm. Even the storm clouds are
amazing as they roll into your path. But
the beauty is more than the surface. It
is the ability to remember what matters in life when you have solitude in
nature. You appreciate your very life so
Another piece is that
everyone is equal here. The richest
person suffers the same hardships if they are going to complete this
journey. No shortcuts to walking. This creates its own beauty. Getting to know another’s story calms the
soul. Everyone you meet is just like
you. Walking. It feels so good to be the same as
everyone. Yet, still a very unique
snowflake. Everyone loves your
story. Everyone loves your being. Anyone on this path is a strong person. You have their respect and you give them
yours. Fear of others not understanding
is washed away. You will find some peace
It is so strange, the
days feel like they will never end, yet the weeks and milestones are left far
behind. Like life, each step seems
inconsequential, yet truthful self-reflection will show miles of adversity
overcome. It is hard to remember each
step without the milestones and pictures.
We find strength by having everything we need on our backs. And we often
find something precious to give to another soul who needs it more. Whatever you need in life, the Camino provides. It is truly miraculous and rejuvenating.
And lastly, I can’t even think about the Camino without remembering the amazing
people. You will meet soooo many people.
All for a reason, season or lifetime. Some become friends forever. The veterans
who I thought about every day, thank you for welcoming me to your circle.
Your strength and resiliency humble me. I live for you. I live to serve. You push me to be better. Thank you.
My advice to everyone
past, present and future walkers… and especially the veterans by my side or in
my mind –
This life is your story. You have such depth behind those eyes. You
all have seen darkness. You are all stronger than it. Leave it past
but stay badass. Fight for happiness, honor and integrity every day. Eyes
follow you. You all inspire others.
Even others that never speak a word to you. Soldier, you carry yourself different than
the rest of the world… Be a good example.
Here. On the Camino. Away from the real world. (Remember it? Hold onto it.)
I challenge everyone
to reflect and redefine success the Camino way. Wealth and power have no
place here. We are all equals.
Or is this the real
world? Can you live this every day? Avoid society’s trap. Build your
walls and don’t let hate, selfishness, and fear enter your heart.
Redefine success. Shift from external comparisons to
internal. Take this home. Don’t accumulate wealth or buy
Live simply so others may simply live.
Spend money on
experiences. Spend time on relationships
with people. Seek fulfillment, good health, and wellbeing. Ignore the norms, be the change. Be
fiercely independent in this world of lemmings. Seek others like you.
Never forget there is
strength in asking for support from friends. Us. Your Camino family
and your veteran family. The world is full of media & bad
advice. Come here for help. If you refuse help, you rob a friend of
their fulfillment in helping you. Give
and receive help. It is rewarding.
Beautiful souls. (That’s you.) Be
you. Fight those demons and daily grinds. You are so strong.
Stand for what you believe. You are elite. Only a small group of
people serve. Less walk the Camino. You know better than to wait for
superman. You are superman, yet that is a
lonely path. Stay strong my
brothers & sisters in arms. We are in this together no matter how far
away in time and space. I am so proud of each of you. I can’t
wait to see where our paths cross again someday. Be true to
yourself. Learn, smile, and appreciate every day.
(PS. PA has its doors open for you and I like
Oh, and if you’re still reading this, there was some not-so
awesome there… Just to keep it real…
Well… most nights you get no sleep worrying about
bed bugs. Then, you don’t care about the
bedbugs, you just wish the noisy snoring next to you to stop. I mean, how can you make noise on both inhale
and exhale? I mean… try it. This is a hard skill! Typically, you do sleep a few hours and your
bunkmate decides it is time for a restroom break and the squeaking bed springs
wake you with a start. When you look at
your phone, you realize it is not charging because there are too many on the
same circuit. Eventually, you are just
thankful there is a path to walk and morning finally comes. If you’re smart, you packed last night and
can start walking to catch sunrise on the trail. Maybe tonight will be quieter. Always be an optimist.
Anyway, another life
metaphor… Forgive the bad and remember
the good. It’s the balance of the two
that makes this world worth living. If
you’re one a down day, there will be an up.
Trust it. I promise you. And if you can’t see it…. come see me! I might be having a bad day, too. And I know a visitor will change my
What is the Camino like? That’s a tough question. It’s fluid, changing day after day. Just like life.
In the beginning, the first few days, it takes you over mountains that truly humble you. But they also make you proud once you reach the summit. The beauty of the views takes your breath away. Slowly you get stronger physically.
With those first days also comes the first stories of fellow pilgrims. They are impressive, to say the least. They are good in many ways and make you realize that you are not alone fighting your battle. They show you the good and openness in others. War makes you forget that at times.
After that you hit the planes with endless roads. You realize soon that they are even more of a challenge. You are under constant attack of your own thoughts and memories. Slowly you hear more and more stories and in some of those stories there are answers to the questions you have been struggling with. They change your point of view on many levels. Again, it remains a battle, but at this point we are fighting together. It gets emotional at times, but that doesn’t matter anymore. We all have our moments and we all have each other’s back. No shame. Even the biggest and toughest cry. It’s good to let it out. After all this we have a beer or some wine and laugh it off
Walking half a marathon day in day out is like meditation. Your mind slowly gets quieter, more and more peaceful with each passing mile. It still shifts at times, especially after a few bad nights. As much as I enjoy the company of other pilgrims, sleeping with 10 of them in a room is another story. I am a little over half way done. Santiago is still a long way away.
I am well into the second week of the Camino at the time of writing. Every morning I have been excited to start the day… until today. Today I woke up to bloody oozing blisters. I was in so much pain and didn’t know what to do. I went ahead and got ready to go about another day of walking, but my feet were telling me no! A day of walking was just not an option. After seeing a doctor, he recommended staying off them for at least two days. Well, of course I listened because, well…. the pain. It was a disappointment. However, it was then that I realized that it was actually a blessing in disguise. I had been trying to keep up with some of our Veteran group, not by speed but rather by meeting up at night in the same town. It was causing me a lot of anxiety. I realized that by doing this, I was making this Camino journey stressful on myself. While this was my own doing, it was not the way I had hoped my Camino would go.
Much of what I have or have not done in my life has been based in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of people. Fear. So many fears that would take too long mention. The Camino is helping me face situations that I would normally have either run from or found a way to avoid. In the past I have been scared to the point of almost freezing-up, but this journey is making me face my fears. I do not know what the rest of my time on this journey will bring, but my greatest hope is that I am on my way to conquering this way of being. This way that has hurt me and hurt the people I love.
They say the Camino provides. I have noticed that I am running into many women my mom’s age. They are so caring and compassionate. This is something I need in my life, especially here. It brings me to tears thinking about it. Yes, the Camino provides. It is bringing me what I need!
Update: I took two days off, as the doctor advised, and am back on the trail feeling much better!
I have realized in a couple of days what I struggled with for months, actually for years.
Yesterday I was faced with an uphill battle. The first day of the French Camino involves hiking up and over the mountains that straddle the border of France and Spain. It’s a 26 kilometer hike that features 90% inclines. This day taught me a lesson in humility.
I thought I was well prepared and in good physical condition so I was confident. Overly confident. And yet I struggled. And I couldn’t help but notice an elderly lady pass me by like I was standing still.
The next lesson came when I felt pain in my knees. I began to get upset and I felt the complaints surge inside of my head. I finally sat down to rest my knee and looked around noticing for the first time the breathtaking scenery. Sometimes in life we focus on the negative and what’s wrong. If we just breathe and take a moment to look around we can begin to appreciate the positive – amazing scenery and family for example.
Today I learned that I can push through the pain and drive on by realizing the good things in front of me, and in my life. I am resilient and if I believe it, I can achieve it. Sometimes you just have to push through the discomfort in order to get to the next stage of life.
In just a short time on this journey I have already made great strides, on the trail and within myself, my perspectives, and my priorities.
2019 Memorial Camino
Private First Class Christopher R. Dixon
In about one week Veterans On the Camino (VOC) will set off on the 2019 Camino journey with six veterans. Each participating veteran has been preparing physically and mentally for many weeks for this upcoming 550 mile walk to Santiago de Compestela. As part of our journey, VOC is dedicating this Camino to our fallen brother, PFC Chris Dixon, 18, of Columbus, Ohio. It is with honor that we will carry Dixon’s memory.
Dixon was killed on May 11 2005 in Karabilah, Iraq. His amphibious assault vehicle struck an explosive device while conducting combat operations against enemy forces. Dixon had been assigned to Marine Force Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
Chad, Dixon’s brother, shared stories about growing up with this American hero. “Growing up in small town Ohio shaped Chris. He knew everyone, was charismatic and seemed to be liked by all. He enjoyed being outdoors, hunting, fishing and spending time with friends. He had a daredevil streak, especially when it came to riding his dirt bike.”
“Chris only lived 18 years – but he really lived them!” Chad paused, “This kid was 5 years younger than me and always wanted to hang out with me and my buddies, he would do anything to prove he could hang with the big kids. He had more grit in him than most adults I know now. So, when he decided to join the Marine Corps it came as no surprise.”
“He had it in his head that he wanted to be an 0311 infantry rifleman. That is exactly what he did.”
During Dixon’s last visit with his brother and family he spent time time deer hunting at the family cabin. Chad shared that this has now become his favorite memory of his brother. That year was his last Christmas with his family. “He left in January 2005 then was deployed to Iraq 2 months later.”
As we can only imagine, Chad shared that his family will never be the same since Chris’ death. But Chad went on to say that his memory will not be forgotten. “When I got married, we had a memorial candle and my brother’s dress blues at our table. My wife and I still wear his dog tags.” Chad and his wife welcomed a son in 2009, who is named after his American hero uncle, Chris.
Dixon is also one of the soldiers of the Eyes of Freedom: Lima Company Memorial. This memorial travels the country with life-sized portraits of the 23 heroes who all lost their lives, all from one company, all over only a period of a few months. Chad said that this Memorial “reminds us of the cost of freedom.”
PFC Chris Dixon on the left
I am honored to wear his dog tag on this journey. We will raise our glasses to toast Chris every evening and talk about him as we walk. Upon arriving at Cruz de Ferro, we will leave a stone that was given by his family. And, of course, the Compostella that represents completing of the journey, will be in Chris’ name. This will be given to his family upon return.
Private First Class Christopher R. Dixon will be a part of our Camino journey during every step, beside us in spirit as we walk that long road to the End of the Earth.
Dedicating the Veterans Camino to a lost soldier came about unexpectedly. It wasn’t by design. However, it has become a major part of the Veterans journey each time we make the trek. This spring, we dedicated the walk to Casey Saunier. He was very much part of our journey and our group. Every evening, we would sit as a family to have dinner, before beginning our meal a few words were said, and glasses raised in honor of our silent brother. It is a fact that Casey brought us all closer together as we thought about and talked about how each of us had also been in that dark place. We found our way out while Casey did not.
In July, I took a trip to Louisiana to pay my respects to Casey’s family and friends who had gathered to inter his ashes into his final resting place.
I would like to thank Casey’s sister, Kimberly for sharing her experience:
A PATH TO PEACE
My brother, Sgt. Casey Saunier, a Marine veteran with three tours of duty was an exceptional son, friend, Marine and brother. For over a decade, he fought the demons that came home with him from his deployments serving our country. On December 12, 2017, he lost the battle and took his own life. My family was shaken to the core. We wondered if we would ever feel at peace again.
In March 2018, a family friend, Kat Cope, told us about Veterans on the Camino. She had taken the liberty to talk to Brad about Casey and tell his story. She had a bracelet made in Casey’s honor and asked him to dedicate walking the Camino in Casey’s name with the bracelet. Brad immediately agreed. He spoke with my parents and some of Casey’s fellow Marines to learn more about him. Along his 500-mile journey, he shared these stories with the fellow veterans he walked with.
For VOC to do this for Casey and my family was truly extraordinary. My family and I viewed this gesture as one more step toward closure and as one more thing being done in Casey’s name. We would wake up each morning to check to see if there was a new blog post or pictures. Brad would take the time throughout the journey to post pictures of him with Casey’s bracelet. That bracelet was more than a bracelet to us. It was a physical symbol of Casey’s spirit being with the Veterans as they made this ancient pilgrimage. We prayed that this journey would finally give Casey the peace that he spent the latter part of his life searching for. We believe he found it.
Two days before Casey’s birthday we held a memorial service to lay his ashes to rest and invited everyone who played a role in his life. Brad represented VOC and stayed with our family for the ceremony. Words cannot express what we felt that day. My parents were presented with the Compostella dedicated to Casey, along with the credential, a medallion, and two shells from the ocean symbolizing Casey’s walk to the end of the Earth. He also presented my parents with the bracelet he wore throughout the journey. My dad slipped the bracelet onto his wrist that night and has yet to take it off.
To say that this experience made an impact in our life is an understatement. Not only did his walk represent bringing peace to Casey’s soul but also bringing peace to our souls. My family and I will always be grateful for what VOC did for us. Casey sent so many good people into our lives to help us through our grief.