Buen Camino Max.

So here I sit in Belorado, Spain trying to find the words to describe the last eight days of walking the French Camino. I walk with an extraordinary collection of Veterans.  It seems like such a short time – eight days – but taken in the context of walking all day, finding albergues to sleep in, eating together, and taking care of each other, it feels like its been much longer.  These Veterans come from the United States, Canada, Poland and Denmark.  Such varying backgrounds, yet so much in common.  

We talk.  We talk a lot. Sharing things that are mundane, and sharing things that are deeply personal.  We laugh together, and sometimes we go very serious together.  The nature of the Camino is to simplify your very existence until you are merely living  in the moment.  There is no room for a facade here.  No need for one.

This is the first part of the Camino. The body is now finally used to the rigors of walking all day and recovering every night. The Meseta is next.  It carries its own unique challenges and, in my experience, is the most difficult portion. It challenges the mind and mental state as much as the physical condition, if not more.  

Perhaps the most important part of our journey is our daily tradition of raising our glass prior to eating dinner. Our toast is always different, but about the same person, our invisible companion – Max Soviak.  It is a sacred moment for us as we have all served and put our lives on the line.  I think each of us carries many names of fellow soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice.  But here and now, they are all represented by Max.  

Max was lost to this life on August 26, during the bombing at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan.  But Max is here with us.  Each of us feels his loss, but we also feel his presence on this journey.  He will forevermore be the 22 year old kid who was larger than life.  He will never grow older as we do, but he is waiting for us on the other side with a crooked smile and a warm welcome.  Buen Camino Max.

Spring 2022 Camino Announcement

Our mission finally continues.

Due to the pandemic crippling our world, we were forced to stand down.  But we are now pleased to announce that the Spring 2020 group of Veterans are getting ready to depart for Spain.

Because the situation changes so rapidly, we cannot begin planning the next group until the current group is actually walking the Camino and we are confident that no more delays will be forced upon us.

We will take applications for the Spring 2022 Camino beginning in November.

Buen Camino,

Brad Genereux

New Program for 2021

As 2020 comes to a close, we are anxiously looking forward to planning, once again, our next Camino journey! Although the 2020 journey was not able to take place due to the COVID Pandemic, VOC has continued working toward its mission.

We are pleased to announce a new component to Veterans on the Camino…. Beginning with our next journey, which will hopefully be in Spring 2021, VOC will include a family member of a Veteran who is standing sentry on the other side. While VOC’s primary mission is to the Veterans who struggle with aspects of their service and transition to civilian life, we recognize that a Veteran’s experience affects not only the Veteran, but also those who love him/her. We want to offer an opportunity for these family members who have lost their soldier to find healing and peace through the Camino journey.

This will be a unique and enriching experience for both the family member and the Veteran participants.  To be integrated with the Veterans, walking side by side, sharing meals, blisters, aches, rainy days, stories and, ultimately, the thrill of arriving at Finisterre will give them an insight into what life is like among the ranks.  A view through the eyes of the soldier who has gone on before them. 

The inspiration for this new program came from Duane. Each year I dedicate my Camino to a fallen Veteran – a Memorial Walk. In 2018 that Veteran was Casey, Duane’s son. Casey’s presence was felt on the 2018 journey, our group talked about him daily. Upon returning home, VOC presented Duane and his family with the Compostela, the shell, and the bracelet I wore with Casey’s name inscribed on it. Duane immediately put it on his own wrist and to this day has never removed it.

Several months ago, Duane expressed an interest in walking the Camino on his own.  This sparked the idea.  After discussion with the VOC board of directors, we asked Duane to be the first official family member participant.  He readily accepted and is ready and eager to make this journey in the company of his son’s fellow warriors.

Because the group of veterans selected for 2020 were not able to travel, they will make up the 2021 participants… along with Duane.  Looking ahead, if you or somebody you know is interested in applying for this new program, look for our next application announcement with details on how and what to submit for consideration.

Buen Camino,

Brad Genereux

2020 / 2021 Veterans on the Camino

The situation our world is facing has been a challenge for all to say the least. We had hoped to simply delay the spring 2020 Camino until the fall of 2020 – but the situation hasn’t improved sufficiently to allow our diverse group to travel to Europe.

With that said, we have made the difficult decision to delay the 2020 group until 2021. We will attempt to plan for a spring journey, but must remain flexible in this rapidly changing environment.

What is the impact? The delay is significant, but this also means that we will not be able to take new applications for the 2021 Camino as we are now backed up by a year.

We sincerely apologize to all those Veterans who have been waiting patiently to apply. Please do continue to watch this website for program changes as we try to find ways to accommodate our mission.

Buen Camino, Brad Genereux

2020 Spring Camino announcement

In consideration of the ongoing pandemic – we have made the decision to make the 2020 Camino a fall Camino.  

Many factors came into consideration and we feel that this is the responsible course of action.

Updates will be published regarding the new schedule as we iron out the new plan.

The Camino is patient.

Buen Camino,

Brad Genereux

Meet Thomas

Meet Thomas

Thomas served in both the Danish Army and Airforce for 20 years.  He deployed 5 times, 4 of them to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, he provided flightline security at Kandahar airfield in 2007; was part of a construction team in camp Tombstone, Helmland province in 2008; served at Aerial Port Services in Camp Bastion in 2012 and finally, as the Air Movement Officer at Kandahar Airfield in 2013-2014.

In short, he was in the deadliest regions of Afghanistan at the peak of the violence.

“In therapy for PTSD I discovered that my issues started on the first tour to Afghanistan.  All of my shifts were on the flightline – there were no bunkers or armored vehicles to take cover in during the frequent mortar and rocket attacks.  There were some very close impacts. You know this when your teeth rattle and you hear shrapnel whistling through the air around you.”

“If that wasn’t enough, I also worked on the casualty flightline, giving CPR and carrying stretchers from the helicopters used to ferry in the wounded.  Many of the injured were civilians but what haunts me the worst were the children who had been blown up – this became the worst when some years later, I became a father.”

“Of course, there are many more pages to this book – I just want the time walking the Camino to reflect on my situation and perhaps find a way to accept the things that I have witnessed and the awful things that have happened.”

Meet Robert

Robert served 21 years in the Polish army, from 1991 to 2012.  He deployed three times as part of the infantry. The infantry are the guys who do the non-glamourous dirty jobs.  They wade into fights without hesitation knowing that there is no promise of a tomorrow.

His missions included Kosovo-Mitrowica in 2000 (17 months), Dywanija Iraq in 2005 (19 months), and finally, Ghazni Afghanistan in 2010 (19 months).  

Robert tells a small part of his story. 

“I was a platoon commander for all three deployments, a leadership role that put me in charge of over 40 infantry soldiers.”

“Being in the infantry meant that our job was combat – keeping my platoon alive was a priority, but it had to be balanced with seeking and engaging the enemy.”

“My most difficult deployment was Afgnaistan.  We patrolled nearly every day in a province that was almost completely controlled by the taliban.  If I wasn’t outside of the wire on a patrol, we stood ready just inside the gate as a Quick Reaction Force – ready to launch instantly if another mission needed help.  Sometimes the waiting is the most intolerable part.”

“My platoon was lucky, we didn’t take any casualties.  Others weren’t so lucky.”  

“Forever imprinted in my memory was the day we were on patrol when the platoon behind mine was blown up.  Exactly where we had been only moments before.”

“After Afghanistan I decided to retire, I simply couldn’t take it anymore.  Today I know I did it under the influence of emotions and my mental fatigue.”

“I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I stopped sleeping normally, to this day I still have problems with it.”

“In addition to the lack of sleep, I became hyperactive and hypervigilant.  locked myself in the house and started drinking a lot. My family supported me but I was hanging on by a very thin thread.”

“I still have problems with concentration, I am nervous and I don’t mix with people I don’t know, I only feel able to relax in the company of soldiers.”

“In addition, my son was diagnosed with diabetes 3 years ago, he was 13 years old.  I need to be strong for him and for the rest of my family – I need to walk these nightmares off.”

“I am very happy with this trip, I will look for God there to help me and my family.”