When Tom Voss and Anthony Anderson returned from their tours of duty in Iraq, they came back changed men. They were dealing with moral injuries, more than physical ones. Both were dealing with post traumatic stress disorder.
“When you get out of the military...you’re really kind of isolated from all of the people that you served with because they’re from all over the country,” said Voss of how he felt once he returned home. “When I got out of the military, I went back to Wisconsin.”
Voss was in his early twenties when he got out of the military. He was having a hard time dealing with the death of his commander in Iraq. He was asking himself really difficult questions. Why wasn’t it me who died? What could I have done differently? Voss began contemplating suicide, but he came up with a solution.
“It was just kind of one of those times when I was thinking, ‘something has to change. The only way it’s going to change is if I do something and take initiative,’ and it just popped into my head,” Voss said.
What popped into his head was a plan to walk across the country — from Milwaukee to Los Angeles. It would help him clear his head and figure his issues out. His journey with fellow veteran Anthony Anderson is documented in the film, “Almost Sunrise”, directed by Michael Collins.
So, they set off on the five month journey across the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and through the Southwest desert.
“We set a goal to walk 20 miles every day,” said Voss. “When you’re doing that and carrying a 60 to 65 pound ruck on your back, it’s hard to train for that and prepare your body for that. We had some days when we’d walk three city blocks and our bodies just couldn’t do it.”
And even after he and Anderson finished their walk, there was still work to be done. Voss said the walk was more about putting himself in a place to work through his issues, rather than solve them.
And so he found himself in Aspen at a seminar designed to help veterans. There he learned how to meditate and express his feelings. He also spent time with Father Thomas Keating at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass. As Voss learned to think clearly about his experiences, and how to express himself, he was able to handle has post traumatic stress better.
“I can’t even put into words how much it’s helped me,” said Voss.
Voss now works with Project Welcome Home Troops — the same group that helped him in Aspen. He acts as a liaison between veterans and the organization that helps provide mental health services to returning military personnel.