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!

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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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

 

Why Pilgrimage Journeys Can Be Meaningful Experiences for Military Veterans

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Participation in pilgrimage journeys is on the rise globally with people undertaking journeys on every continent and within vast cultural contexts. We know that motivations for these journeys can be based in a religious/spiritual framework, but many people participating in a pilgrimage have no particular religious motivation or expectation from the experience. Yet, there is a general “quest” that occurs for every pilgrim and every type of pilgrimage journey.

In light of this, are there particular reasons for why a pilgrimage might appeal to a military veteran? There are certainly exemplars of military pilgrimage for active duty personnel (e.g., hike to Masada for oath-taking ceremonies for the Israel Defense Force), for military veterans (e.g., Museum of the Marine Corps), and for those honoring war dead (e.g., Normandy, Gallipoli, and Pearl Harbor). But what about pilgrimage journeys aimed at healing and transformation for military veterans? The Warriors Pilgrimage to Lourdes is one specific pilgrimage that fills the need for such journeys for military veterans. Beyond this, depending on the individual, and the context for the journey, nearly any pilgrimage journey can provide a framework for healing and transformation. While not an exhaustive list, I have detailed below some key reasons why pilgrimage journeys may be particularly meaningful for military veterans and, moreover, why these journeys may lead to healing and transformation.

  1. Honoring those who have gone before – military personnel have a strong tradition of honoring the service members who have served in the military, in general, and, specifically, those who have previously served in one’s particular unit. Such historical narratives underpin the legends, myths and ethos of military culture. Military veterans will find that pilgrimage journeys provide a framework for honoring those who have come before and becoming aware of one’s own place in time and space. I have interviewed dozens of pilgrims and, without exception, they share with me about a sense of awareness of others who have moved through the same space and even note the significance of seeing older pilgrims and younger pilgrims sharing an experience. Additionally, most pilgrimage journeys follow ancient paths and the route goes through historically significant landscapes and geological/architectural structures.
  2. Side-by-side movement – movement, and tasks, in a military context are often completed side-by-side (e.g., physical training, marching, cleaning weapons, etc.). Such side-by-side physical positioning, and parallel activity, leads to conversations between and among those participating in the activity or exercise. Often, conversations evolve into more personal disclosures and increased support occurs. This type of side-by-side and parallel movement also emerges as part of a pilgrimage journey. Because the body is in motion, focus is on the horizon (rather than on face-to-face eye contact), the physiological systems are active (i.e., blood flow, heart rate, oxygen levels) and the pace is comfortable, pilgrims have decreased defenses and increased openness to share with one another and offer mutual support. This is further discussed below in the action versus talking section.
  1. Ritual and rites of passage – The overarching culture of the military is embedded with ritual and rites of passage. Such rites of passage include boot camp or officer candidate school, promotion ceremonies, and unit specific rituals. The late anthropologist Victor Turner (1974) suggested that rites of passage, particularly pilgrimage, lead to various levels of communitas, which is an organic sense of communing with those taking part in the rite of passage. More readily available exemplars of communitas include the phenomenon that occurs when there is a sense of unity among concert-goers of a high intensity concert, participation in a political rally, profound spiritual engagement, and/or combat experiences. The pilgrimage journey itself is a rite or passage, but there are many rituals that comprise the journey — many of which are meaningful because of how the individual pilgrim constructs the experience. A military veteran may carry with him a photo of a friend killed in combat or bring a stone to leave at a sacred point of the journey. Other pilgrims may undertake the journey as a result of a shared plan with a loved one who has died and the journey brings a sense of closeness and comfort for the living.
  1. Identity transformation – When a young woman or young man enters the military, s/he transitions from a “civilian” to a soldier, marine, sailor, etc. This process of identity transformation occurs vis-à-vis a rite of passage as mentioned above, but carries with it new identities, roles, language and relationship to the non-military world. There is a sense of belonging to one’s military community and an in-group status/identity is formed. For veterans leaving military service, the shock of losing one’s military identity can be significant. Inherent in a pilgrimage journey is the adoption of an identity of “pilgrim” (even if this is contained to the duration of the journey) and one now belongs to a community of pilgrims. During some types of pilgrimages, the pilgrim even adopts a new name for the duration of the pilgrimage and operates within this identity throughout the pilgrimage process. Beyond this, pilgrims often remain connected with other pilgrims met during the journey and maintain close contact via phone, social media and email. Often the new community will gather for reunions and reminisce about the pilgrimage experiences as well as life experiences beyond the shared journey. For many military veterans, this is a similar camaraderie as that which was experienced in a military environment.
  1. Focus on action versus focus on dialogue – military personnel often are either training for or engaged in the execution of action plans. This mission focus, and rigid hierarchical structure, is often missed once a veteran has left military service. The veteran has spent years using his/her body for a particular objective in a particular space. Researchers writing about therapeutic landscapes have noted the importance of the body moving through a particular geographical terrain (Andrews & Moon, 2005). Another researcher suggested that “shared direction of movement and a shared vista results in fewer non-verbal signals passing between individuals walking together, than if they were seated opposite in a more static environment.” Additionally, the social interaction that occurs while walking is “experienced as low in emotional intensity…this may help to facilitate more emotional depth in conversations…and possibly even remove the perceived need to share anything significant about oneself at all” (Doughty, 2013). For military veterans used to a focus on action, rather than dialogue, as well as operating in a side-by-side, parallel environment, a pilgrimage journey may provide the optimal conditions for movement based healing.

References

Andrews, G. J., & Moon, G. (2005). Space, place, and the evidence base: Part I—an

introduction to health geography. Worldviews on EvidenceBased Nursing, 2(2), 55-62.

Doughty, K. (2013). Walking together: the embodied and mobile production of a

therapeutic landscape. Health & Place (24), 140-146.

Turner, V. (1974). Dramas, fields, and metaphors: Symbolic action in human

society. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.