Army vet who suffered from PTSD embarks on huge 40-mile hike to raise awareness for his fellow vets

"These were people that either suffered from PTSD and died in combat, or … [survived but] don’t know how to cope with it yet. Those are people I carried with me in my vest that day.”
July 11, 2018 6:27 pm Last Updated: July 11, 2018 6:27 pm

Are there any moments from your past you just don’t want to think about? Is there any subject that—when it’s brought up—takes you back to that awful moment?

Many people experience trauma, especially military veterans. Yet not everyone understands why people with upsetting memories react the way they do.

Veteran Will Montgomery is hoping to change that though, one hike at a time.

After serving in Iraq, Will Montgomery suffered from PTSD.

They call me the “Walking Man”! 4mile Hike with 40lbs! 2nd Annual PTSD Awareness Hike…

Posted by Will Rwf on Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Montgomery went through some shocking experiences while serving in the United States Army.

When in Iraq in 2011, he witnessed a rocket attack kill three of his fellow soldiers. This would be a horrifying experience for anybody, but Montgomery didn’t realize just how much it affected him until years later.

When Montgomery went in for a routine medical exam in 2015, he received a surprising diagnosis: he had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and a traumatic brain injury.

“I was shocked,” he told Upworthy. “I didn’t really think I had a problem.”

Yet, once he retired from the army and went back to civilian life, he realized that the diagnosis was absolutely right.

He couldn’t relate to civilians any more. When they walked past him, he got the feeling that they thought he “wasn’t right.”

This led to some dark thoughts and Montgomery turned to alcohol to cope. He became aggressive, starting fights that would land him in jail. By all accounts, he felt like a broken human being.

Struggling to integrate back into civilian life, he went to the Denver Veterans’ Affairs office for help.

The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to Veterans in crisis, as well as their family and friends….

Posted by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Montgomery saw who he had become and wanted to improve himself, but the nearest mental health provider covered by his insurance was four hours away. Driving there all the time simply wasn’t sustainable.

He called the Denver Veterans’ Affairs office who set him up with a seven-week treatment program specifically for veterans who experience PTSD.

This worked like a charm for Montgomery, who learned many new coping skills that kept his condition in check. He started working out, got sober, and focused on providing for his family.

“When I got out of the Army, I had to find a whole new identity of who I was. I felt like I lost me,” he said.

This program helped Montgomery find the past self that he had left behind.

Upon recovery, he wanted to show the world that people with PTSD aren’t inherently broken.

Posted by Will Rwf on Sunday, May 6, 2018

The trauma never fully went away, but Montgomery now knew that having those dreadful memories did not mean that something was wrong with him. He wanted to make sure that message was clear to other veterans as well.

“Anybody with PTSD needs to understand that just because we have it, we’re not broken,” he said.

That’s why, in 2017, he challenged himself to hike from Craig to Hayden, Colorado. This nearly 18-mile journey was to raise awareness for PTSD.

This wasn’t originally intended as a charity, but many volunteers pitched in to donate to his cause.

By the end, he had unintentionally raised $1,000 to help a local veteran in need. That is when he realized that he could take this idea further.

Montgomery was onto something. He could sense it!

He has gone on multiple long hikes to raise money and spread awareness for the disorder.

Posted by Will Rwf on Saturday, May 5, 2018

Montgomery did yet another longer hike in May. He traveled almost 40 miles through the Rabbit Ears Pass in the Rocky Mountains.

This was a difficult journey up a trail that ranged between 6,0000 and 10,000 feet above sea level. Going through it alone could have proven impossible!

Fortunately, Montgomery had company this time: fellow veterans Ryan Fritz and Tracy Santistevan.

As they hiked along, Montgomery carried the names of 42 fellow veterans inside his vest.

“These were people that either suffered from PTSD and died in combat, or … [survived but] don’t know how to cope with it yet,” he said. “Those are people I carried with me in my vest that day.”

Phase Line Tenney Mile 33.7

Posted by Will Rwf on Saturday, May 5, 2018

It took nearly an entire day to make it through the mountain trail, but in the end, the three vets did it, and they raised nearly $4,000 along the way.

Afterwards, Montgomery admitted that he was sore but he still wasn’t going to stop at just two hikes. In fact, he’s planning a trip across the entire state of Colorado next year, which would be a roughly 200-mile journey!

This might seem like too difficult an endeavor for some. Montgomery considers it just another part of the commitment he made when he joined the army—something he does not for himself but to benefit all of his fellow soldiers who have struggled throughout the years.

With the amount of challenges Montgomery and his pals have overcome already, what’s another 200 miles going to hurt?