Louis shares his Camino

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.

Louis

Suzanne’s Camino

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!

Alex reflects on his first day

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.

Alex on the Camino de Santiago

Chris Dixon memorial Camino

 

 

2019 Memorial Camino
Private First Class Christopher R. Dixon

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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.”

soldiers31PFC 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.
Brad Genereux

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Meet the Veterans – 4 of 6

suzanne

My name is Suzanne and I am 51 years old. I have four children 29, 27, 12, and 10, I will be a first time Grandma in August.
I joined the Marine Corps when I was 19 years old, I picked the Marines because I wanted to do something physically and mentally challenging.
On my 20th birthday I was sexually assaulted by four Marines.
I reported the assault but was not taken seriously by the investigative service.
This started a lifetime of nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, anger, depression, but mostly fear. I have been in therapy now for almost 5 years and about 6 months ago I was finally able to tell my story without fear.
I am always looking for retreats and experiences to help with PTSD, that’s how I found VOC. I have always liked the idea of putting on boots and a backpack and just walking and reflecting on myself and my life. I have lived most of my life in fear and I am hoping that this experience will help put this behind me or in the least not be controlled by it. I am currently enrolled in a meditation certification program and I am hoping to help other Veterans with PTSD.

Meet the Veterans – 3 of 6

 

Things have not been easy the last few years.

It’s been a constant struggle for me after getting medically discharged from the Army. I thought that maybe as more time went by it would get easier and that I would just be able to ride this out, but things started to get worse and so did the stress and anxiety.

I realize that I need to make a change in my life and reach out for help as well. It’s really exciting to see what veterans on the Camino is doing and reading about the experience and testimonies of the previous veterans to hike the Camino has been really inspiring.

I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this year’s upcoming hike with Veterans on the Camino. Thanks to everyone who has helped support and put veterans on the Camino!

Peace,

Jude

Meet the Veterans – 2 of 6

louis

Hi, I’m Louis. I joined the army in 1992 and got deployed to the former Yugoslavia as part of UNPROFOR. That period changed my life a lot, once home I just didn’t feel like I still fitted in.
I returned to the mission working for one of the military contractors and stayed until the end of the war in 1996. A lot happened during that time. Many great things but also a lot that got burned into my eyes. I wasn’t ready to come home, to be honest I wasn’t ready for life anymore. I came close to losing it all together.
Once home I started working a lot. Mostly short-term assignments as I was unstable really. I needed the time between these assignments to recharge. Like walking life on a string, just trying to keep in balance all the time. I tried to cope for many years, but things went downhill. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and received therapy from a variety of organizations including the army.
In the end things got worse. The therapy sent me back to war more and more, I started having flashbacks, nightmares and anxiety. The medication didn’t have an effect on me other than causing major depression. Again, I nearly lost everything not having the power anymore to fight.
They stopped treatment and the medication. I slowly started picking up the pieces again and I managed somehow, with the support of great friends that once stood at my side, and still do.
I’m trying, it’s getting better, but I have some distance to overcome still.
I applied for Veterans on the Camino and was selected. It will be a challenge, but I will be there with others who understand my struggle. It will be an honor to walk with them and to get to know how they continued with life. I look forward learning from them and hopefully it will lead to more peace in all our lives.