Walking and talking for our Vets

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By Allyson Pebsworth
Staff Reporter

Currently walking across the country in hopes to raise awareness for and honor the 22 veterans lost everyday to the succumbing pressure of PTSD, Ernesto Rodriguez recently passed through Bowie County.
He took time to make a stop at Randy’s BBQ in New Boston, which he said was his most memorable experience in our community, before continuing his walk.
Rodriguez, 34, is a 15 year Army veteran and current resident of Clarksville, Tennessee. Beginning his journey on Veterans day 2016, Rodriguez plans to complete the 2,200 mile walk from his hometown to Los Angeles, California by mid-March 2017.
Carrying the weight of an average six year old in his backpack, and an American flag daily, Rodriguez has been combating the ever changing weather conditions. As for the recent dramatic drop in temperatures across the state, he has been staying bundled in the “Right gear. Plus walking helps keep you warm.”
Rodriguez served two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan, and he was part of one of the first units to go to Iraq during the initial March 2003 invasion. After experiencing social anxiety disorder firsthand, and realizing the difficulty of receiving professional help, Rodriguez understands the tremendous need to bring increased awareness of symptoms and the importance of receiving proper treatment.
Believing one of the only ways to get a platform in today’s society is to carry out an extreme act, hence the walk across the country, Rodriguez thinks there needs to be more national attention brought to the issue. “Those who served to protect us are often thrown to the wayside after the war is over. I’ve had a lot of friends that were veterans who committed suicide due to lack of mental health care. It was frustrating to me to see that it wasn’t a topic that was newsworthy enough to get the attention it needed.”
While Rodriguez started the journey with a fellow veteran, due to unforeseen circumstances, he is now on his own. Having made the choice to continue the task at hand instead of stopping, Rodriguez stated, “The risk factor is a lot higher now, but this is too important to stop. The message is too big and too important to stop.”
Walking each day until he gets tired, Rodriguez spends the night either in a hotel or sleeping outside in special gear. As of Monday, December 19, 2016 he was in Sulphur Springs, Texas and had a goal of making it to Greenville for the night. If the pace he has been walking at stays the same, there is a chance he will complete his journey early and reach his destination at the end of February or early March.
Rodriguez urges people to spend any amount of time with veterans at a Veterans Affairs hospital, retirement home, or just in their own community. “It can be so powerful to just sit with a veteran and hear their story.” He continued, “Veterans are neglected, especially around the holidays. Many feel stuck or don’t have family; people can go volunteer, or play cards, or something. It’s worth it. It’s the little things, especially to those who served to protect us.”
His journey is updated each day through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with posts, videos, and pictures.
He also records videos, often sharing stories of those veterans who have lost their lives to the ugly disorder known as PTSD. Followers can keep up with his journey on social media outlets by following Nerdnesto and  #forthe22.


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