By Paul Gable
Three men from the Helping Hands for Freedom charity recently completed the Route for the Brave, a 3,091 walk across America.
Staff Sgt. (ret.) Patrick Shannon, a two time Purple Heart recipient and Bronze Star recipient, David Roth, a 20-plus yr. vet of the Indianapolis Metro Police Department and Kevin Winton, a 20-year math teacher in Indiana, were the participants. They walked from Atlantic City, NJ to San Francisco, CA in four months.
Planning for the walk began as an idea from Roth three years ago. Roth saw his stepson go through multiple deployments with the Navy and the adjustment process, especially with the kids, that those deployments caused.
The purpose of the walk was to raise awareness for Gold Star families and to raise funds for the construction of a House of Healing and PTSD Center for military families.
During the walk, the Shannon, Roth and Winton attended 150 events, held along the way, to help with the fundraising.
“All the people we met and seeing the country from the ground up at a slow pace gave us a new appreciation of the diversity and strength of average Americans,” said Shannon.
Helping Hands for Freedom was created in 2008 by Shannon and his friend Rod Smith. While recovering at Walter Reed Army Hospital from injuries suffered in Iraq, Shannon would go bedside to bedside talking to fellow soldiers about their concerns. The one constant that came up was the family.
“In recent years, we, as a country, have been more aware of the sacrifices made by our troops,” Shannon said. “However, the families of those service members, who must make adjustments and sacrifices also, are often forgotten.”
Shannon funded HHFF for two years out of his own pocket before it got its 501c3 designation.
“We are very proud of the fact that we keep our overhead low,” Shannon said. “Eighty-three percent of all the proceeds we collect goes to charitable disbursements.”
HHFF aids families dealing with deployment, combat injuries and loss. It helps in all 50 states with an emphasis on Arizona and Indiana, the native states of Smith and Shannon respectively.
HHFF received the 2015 Lincoln Award given to the top military charity in America.
HHFF is looking to build the House of Healing and PTSD Center on 46 acres. It will feature six suites for families as well as horse and dog therapy at the PTSD Center. Shannon said HHFF hopes to make a decision shortly as to the location.
Interestingly, the Grand Finale of Route for the Brave was held at the San Francisco 49ers preseason game of August 26th. This was the same game where San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first decided to remain seated through the playing of the National Anthem.
The following are comments Shannon delivered on the night and in recognizing Kaepernick’s action:
“Helping Hands for Freedom would like to recognize and thank the San Francisco 49ers organization for all the support they demonstrated for the Route for the Brave and for allowing our organization to present the game ball before the playing of the National Anthem. This night was a celebration of the culmination of a 3,100 mile walk across America to bring awareness to the families of the fallen and their sacrifice. Unfortunately, this joyous moment was overshadowed by the actions of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. While we understand that the United States Flag and the National Anthem are both sacred elements of the military essence and hold great significance to many veterans, they can be perceived in various different manners. The sacrifices that our veterans and military families have made have given Mr. Kaepernick the ability to speak his opinion about the state of our country. Although he is entitled to his opinion, we would have welcomed Mr. Kaepernick to have walked across this great nation with us and witness first-hand the compassion, commitment and beautiful diversity across all people in each diverse city that we visited, perhaps instilling a greater sense of faith in America. While not a perfect country, we cannot be defined by the actions of a few. We continue to grow and progress and will only persevere through strong leadership and dialogue. Mr. Kaepernick is welcome to join us on our next walk, TBD, to see first-hand the freedoms of our people to truly affect change.”