Veterans on the Camino is back!

After an extraordinarily long break due to global pandemics and imminent WW3 (Thanks Putin…) The directors of VOC have determined that we can send the current Veteran group on the Camino this Fall.  Better yet, we will begin a new application season in order to have a group ready for a Fall 2023 Camino.

Make sure to check the website in the coming weeks for specific instructions on how to request an application and the criteria required.

Here is what you are applying for:

  • VOC will purchase your most critical gear for you to train in – boots and backpack
  • VOC will assist in what to train for and how to train
  • VOC covers all travel expenses
  • VOC provides a daily per diem to cover food and basic albergue costs
  • You provide the time needed – roughly 40 days

You will join a small group of other Veterans to walk the 600-mile French Camino from Saint Jean Pied du Port, France all the way to Santiago de Compostella and Finisterre, Spain.  Our goal is to removes many obstacles as possible to enable you, the Veteran, to walk this ancient pilgrimage. 

What this isn’t:

- A vacation – this is not a journey to be taken lightly.

- An all-expenses paid tour of Europe – living conditions are not posh.  You will travel and live much as other perigrinos have done for over 1000 years. 

If you feel like this is a good fit, and something that might help you “reboot” then I encourage you to submit your application!

Buen Camino,

Brad Genereux

Spring 2022 Camino delay

Sadly, we have to formally announce that the spring 2022 Camino has been delayed.

It would simply be irresponsible to risk international travel for the participants during this time of unrest.

We will hopefully be able to resume taking the Veteran groups on the Camino this fall – but of course that is dependent on what happens between now and then.

Also, because of the interruption of COVID and now the war in Ukraine we will not start the next application process until we have the spring 2022 group (who are actually the group selected for spring 2020) actually on the Camino.

We apologize for this delay and hope that those wishing to apply to walk with us understand our reasons for our difficult decision.

Chasing Shadows

Chasing shadows. It’s what we do every day on the Camino.

Walking ever westward our shadows are impossibly long in the morning but get shorter and shorter as the sun makes its way through the day. The body has become accustomed to the rigors of walking all day, every day. Now we pass onto the high plain known as the “meseta” – the mental crucible due to its seemingly endless straight and flat trails. Some find it dull, but this is where the mind and heart are brought to a reckoning.

We are confronted by our shadow relentlessly. It challenges us. It reminds us of our lives. It is personal and it is cruel. It points an accusing finger at us. “Where were you when that kid lost his eye in the explosion? You could have stopped him….” “Why did you this???” Why did you that???” “Why didn’t you do it???” Relentless. We continue chasing our shadow across the Meseta day after day.

We dread the mornings when the shadow is impossibly long like a gruesome specter.

After what seems like an eternity, the shadow begins to ease up. Slowly, it stops being so Damn dark. Stops being cruel. It reminds us that there have been others who have also cast shadows, who have also walked this path. We aren’t that different.

This path is ancient and this shadow is something we have all endured. Perhaps it is not so cruel after all. This is a turning point.

We begin to accept our shadows, our past, rather than chase it.

As we leave the Meseta we begin to realize that the shadow belongs to us.
That it is of our own making.
We realize the shadow is us.

Thomas P. & Ward G.

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