Travis Snyder has seen his fair share of combat, and he knows exactly how difficult it can be to re-enter society after spending time in a war zone.
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The Michigan man is a marine veteran who served as a corporal in Afghanistan from 2017 until 2018. After retiring and returning back to the United States, he began struggling with his mental health — and he wasn’t the only one who felt this way. He watched his military friends battle PTSD and other challenges as well.
In 2019, Travis lost one of his good friends and former suitemates to suicide. The loss opened his eyes to a tragic reality: Around 17 veterans die by suicide in the U.S. every single day. Travis became determined to increase awareness of this fact and has found ways to help veterans access mental health resources to reintegrate into civilian life after combat.
“Up until that point in my unit, we had lost others before my time of service, but that was my first time experiencing loss up that close,” Travis said. “Once we lost Jeff I would say I just felt led to do something and walking and hiking was the best thing I knew how to do.”
That August, Travis packed up his backpack and embarked on a trek that would take him all the way around Lake Michigan, a journey of 810 miles. He finished his first hike around the lake on October 6th 2019, just 42 days after he set out.
But one hike wasn’t enough. With a goal of promoting veteran suicide awareness, he teamed up with the non-profit Mission 22, an organization which provides veterans with mental health support and resources. With each hike he takes, Travis collects donations for them using Facebook.
He uses his open video forums as a chance to discuss difficult topics like suicide, refugees, and other potentially-painful yet necessary issues. Plus, the platform gives him a way to share videos and pictures from his journey.
Thanks to the support he’s received from folks on social media, Travis has yet to unroll his sleeping bag and camp outside! Instead, he’s given a bed and food every day by kind strangers who support his mission.
“The first year I was going to hike, I didn’t tell too many folks what I was doing,” Travis explained. “I was merely going to commemorate our comrade we lost to suicide and hoped to reach a few people along the way. I had all of my camping gear and was ready to rough it wherever I could.”
“However, with help from Facebook, word of mouth, and other platforms, thousands of people have gathered around each venture, with a desire to contribute one way or another; whether it be a meal, a roof, a bed, or just a word of encouragement,” he continued. “I’m very grateful when I share that after four walks and 2,240 total miles, I have yet to resort to camping out somewhere for a night. I have always had a bed, or place to stay whether it be a home or hotel.”
Travis has made three more treks since finishing that first walk. In 2020, he walked 210 miles along the shoreline. In 2021, he walked another 200. Most recently in 2022, he completed his longest walk yet: around 900 miles!
Travis plans to continue his walks as long as it’s necessary to do so. He hopes his efforts lead to open and honest discussions around mental health and removing the stigma around suicide for his fellow veterans. He’s already planning another trek for 2023, perhaps around Lake Superior this time.
“Trust me, the desire is there, and as long as we keep losing our loved ones to suicide, the calling and the need will continue to be there as well,” he said.
Share this story to help Travis in his mission to help his fellow veterans find hope.
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