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Veteran, service dog take on 9/11 Memorial Trail

Army veteran Kevin Wilson (left) and his service dog, Calvin, pose with a Richland Township police officer after a brief detour on their quest to hike the length of the National 9/11 Memorial Trail. Courtesy photo

Army veteran Kevin Wilson is on a journey to become the first person to complete the National 9/11 Memorial Trail — with service dog Calvin in tow.

Arriving in Duncansville on Friday afternoon, the Arizona resident is on the final leg of his trek to the World Trade Center in New York.

His journey began on Aug. 24 when he flew into Washington, D.C., from his home in Arizona and was driven to the Pentagon by Warrior Expeditions, an organization that provides veterans with the supplies they need to complete a long-distance outdoor journey.

Warrior Expeditions comprises three programs: Warrior Bike, Warrior Paddle and Warrior Hike.

Wilson joined Warrior Hike after his medical discharge from the Army, following six years of service and two tours in Iraq.

Walking 12 to 25 miles a day, Wilson expects to finish the trail by the end of November.

“My wife is pregnant. We’re expecting a baby girl and she said I’d better do it now because I’m not doing it later,” Wilson said, adding that she is due in December.

As the first to walk the entire trail, Wilson said part of his job is to create good community relations for those who come after him.

“I was told that it would be unknown and so far it has been an amazing experience,” Wilson said. “This is my first time seeing any of the memorials, it’s a very humbling experience.”

He said he had camped in front of the Shanksville Fire Department and met with some of the first responders there that day, as well as family members of the Flight 93 victims.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what all these families had to go through,” he said.

Wilson, who was in high school during 9/11, said it means a lot for him to experience these things and even has a Facebook page set up to chronicle his journey. He hopes that it will not only raise awareness for the trail, but encourage other veterans to try Warrior Expeditions.

Having been medically discharged from the Army, Wilson is hiking the trail with a visual impairment. While not completely blind, he said he has no peripheral vision and can only see straight ahead of him.

He said that his “eyes are fine” but his occipital nerves are dying. That’s where Calvin comes in.

“He is a determined wounded warrior with a great support dog, Calvin, who even with some sight disability is taking this trip by himself with his dog and walking this entire route,” said Jane Sheffield, executive director of the Allegheny Ridge Corp. and a member of the executive committee and board for the September 11th National Memorial Trail. “He is doing an excellent job telling stories on Facebook to help others remember 9/11 and keeping it alive.”

Community support all along the trail has been amazing, Wilson said, with people buying Calvin dog food, putting the pair up in hotels and businesses encouraging them to stop by for a meal and to refill their water bottles.

“His efforts in bringing noteworthy attention to those military veterans transitioning following their service is beyond commendable,” Explore Altoona Executive Director Mark Ickes said.

Once in Duncansville, Ickes, Sheffield and Mayor Eric Fritz treated Wilson to a meal at Marzoni’s. Wilson was also given an overnight hotel room by the Comfort Inn, Ickes said.

The journey hasn’t been without its hiccups, however. While hiking from Johns­town to Portage, Wilson came upon a detour in his assigned route because of construction work, according to a post on his Facebook page, Calvin’s Chronicle.

“That detour took me down a road where I, as a hiker, wasn’t supposed to go and for the first time in a long while I saw the flashing lights of red and blue,” Wilson wrote.

Police talked to Wilson, saying that they had re­­ceived calls for a welfare check from people who had seen him walking along the detour route and possibly endangering what they believed to be a child in a carriage.

However, it was Calvin, being pushed along in a covered cart provided by Warrior Expeditions.

“I thought it was hilarious,” Wilson laughed.

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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