Michael Roberts plans to walk 8,992 miles to raise awareness about amputee veterans.
He will be accompanied by his dog Boots and he calls his trek, Boots 2 Boots.
“I spent 11 years in an infantry unit. I’m a ground pounder,” Roberts said. “The one thing I can do is walk.”
Roberts begins his walk Saturday, April 4, from the parking lot of Holly’s Funeral Home in Waupaca.
He expects the journey will take nine to 12 months, with stops along the way to speak with Americans about the sacrifice amputee veterans have made.
Roberts was in the U.S. Army from 1984 until 1995. He then served as a sheriff’s deputy in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and as a police officer in Upland, Pennsylvania.
He also lived and owned a business in Canada that specialized in work safety.
In 2003, Roberts began working with a private security contractor in Kosovo.
He then worked in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 and in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012.
In July 2006, Roberts had an experience that would later inspire him to make the walk.
He was in the shotgun seat of an armored GMC that was part of a three-vehicle convoy escorting a client. They were returning from Taji to a compound in Baghdad.
“My vehicle was hit by an IED,” Roberts said. “The explosion was comparable to a claymore mine and it hit my window and door.”
Roberts’ vehicle was thrown off the road and it flipped down an embankment, landing on its wheels.
“We were all tossed around in the vehicle,” Roberts said. “I still have a lump the size of a softball on the back of my thigh.”
Roberts considered it “a good day” because everybody in the vehicle survived the explosion.
“Whenever I look at a veteran who lost limbs, I realize that could have been me,” he said.
Roberts said that when many veterans return home after serving overseas, they are welcomed by their communities, and their friends and families thank them for their service.
“Before an amputee veteran returns home, you are shipped to Germany or an out-of-country hospital where you’re stabilized and patched up. Then you’re shipped to Walter Reed or a VA hospital where you spend a year or more,” Roberts said. “There are no parades, no thank yous, no visits from neighbors.”
Roberts said his friends who are amputee veterans feel they have the lost the freedoms they were fighting for.
“They say, ‘I’ll never be able to take my kid to the beach or on a ferris wheel,'” Roberts said.
Noting his own struggles with despair and suicidal thoughts, Roberts said it is difficult to cope with civilian life after fighting in a war. It is even more difficult for those who have lost their limbs or become severely disabled.
“The reason I’m doing this isn’t for me, it’s to show these veterans that there are people who care and who appreciate everything they have been through,” Roberts said.
Roberts’ route will take him east from Waupaca through Oshkosh, Chicago, then Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, then through New Mexico, Arizona, California and back home through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska and South Dakota.
He plans to shoot video of his journey and post updates at www.facebook.com/boots2boots .