Brenda reflects on the Camino

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…

Brad Genereux

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 be lived.

Better late than never and better to try and fail than never try at all…

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For 30 days we traversed mountains, rivers, grassland, farmland, scree, gravel, boulders, dirt and desert.

We overcame rain, snow, hail, sun, pain, blisters, sleepless nights and… loneliness, ignorance, hate, love, distractions, luxuries and obstacles.

We found simplicity.  Beauty.  Equality.  And peace.

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 miles.

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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 much more.

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 and comfort.

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.

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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 appearances. 

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 surprises!  Hehe!!)


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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 down.  =)

Brenda captured Jude showing off his superpowers

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.

Spring 2019 Camino is open for applications

 

Starting 1 October 2018 Veterans on the Camino (VOC), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, will be accepting applications for participation in the Spring 2019 Camino.
In the beginning of April 2019, the selected Veterans will link up and depart from Saint Jean Pied du Port, France to walk the 550-mile Camino de Santiago all the way to the western most point of Spain in Finisterre. This journey will take approximately 35 days to walk, factor in travel days and you can expect to return around 15 May.
If selected to participate, VOC will provide your backpack and boots, all travel to and from your home, and a $30.00 USD daily perdiem to cover food and lodging along “The Way.”
To qualify you must:
– 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
– Understand that this is not a vacation, walking 550 miles is not an easy endeavor
– Have 40 days available to participate
– Be able to converse in basic English
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 will be accepted via mail or email until 2400 EST, 15 December 2018.
An independent selection committee will evaluate all applications and advise the VOC board of directors which applicants they recommend for participation.
Selected participants will be notified by 7 January 2019.

Spring 2019 Camino announcement

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In just a few weeks, Veterans on the Camino will be accepting applications for the next pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, Spain.

We are seeking any coalition Veteran interested in making this life altering journey on the ancient “Camino de Santiago.”  This journey is a transformation – not a vacation.

To qualify you must:
1. Completely fill out the application form that will be provided by VOC
2. Provide a DD214 (with SSN blacked out) or equivalent if you served with other than US forces
3. Be able to clear your schedule from 1 April 2019 until 15 May 2019
4. Have a valid passport (or equivalent if from another EU country)

The applications will be accepted from 1 October 2018 until 15 December 2018 and the selection results will be publicized in early January.

If selected, we will conduct a phone interview and equip you with a backpack and boots to begin your preparations before linking up in early April for this 550 mile walk across northwestern Spain.

In addition to the boots and backpack, VOC will pay all travel to and from the Camino and will provide $30 USD per day to cover food and albergue costs while on the Camino.

Buen Camino,
Brad Genereux