An Army veteran of Afghanistan and non-profit founder is launching an 1,800-mile walk from Mississippi to West Point, New York in an effort to raise awareness and funds to combat veteran suicide and help other veterans to deal with complex grief.
Former infantry officer and West Point graduate Greg Washington will depart his family’s hometown of Mound Bayou, Mississippi on Friday to begin the trek up the eastern seaboard, with stops planned for rallies, fundraising events, and panel discussions along the way.
In a Thursday phone interview with Military Times, Washington shared his motivations for the undertaking and his struggle with mental health following the combat deaths of two of his friends and classmates, Army Capt. Scott Pace and Army 2nd Lt. Emily Perez.
“I had survivor’s remorse,” said Washington, who left the Army in 2011 at the rank of captain. “My two best friends were such great human beings…and I would have much rather that it have been me than them.”
Perez, who died from a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006, was the first ever Black female officer in the history of the U.S. military to die in combat. Pace, a helicopter pilot, died in 2011 when the Taliban shot down his helicopter in Afghanistan.
Washington explained that he struggled with his transition from the Army, too. “I found myself going into a deep depression, trying to find answers at the bottom of a liquor bottle,” he said. “And I couldn’t find any.”
He came close to taking his own life, he said, if not for a family member calling him out of the blue. Washington hopes his walk — undertaken in the wake of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan — will be a rallying point for those organizing to support those in similar situations.
“Our young men and women that honorably served, that raised their hand at such a young age — they need our support,” said Washington. “What I’m hoping is that we can put aside our differences…[and] fight this common enemy called suicide. And I’m willing to do it one step at a time.”
Washington estimates the trip will take 65 days, with stops planned in various locations including the National Museum of African American History and the 9/11 Memorial to honor his friends.
“I’m hoping that this will become a national campaign, and that I can get grassroots support from us [veterans] to help reach people,” he added.
People interested in following Washington’s progress can do so at the Facebook page for his non-profit, House of Man.