KINGMAN – It’s going to be a long walk, but for a good cause.
U.S. Army and Iraq War veterans Adam Lingo and Joseph Cox have been charting an average of 15 to 20 miles a day on foot across the country to bring awareness to the estimated number of 22 veteran suicides a day.
“It’s not about talk,” said Cox. “We decided it’s time to get up and do something.”
The infantrymen were disabled from wounds resulting from improvised explosive devices. From a physical standpoint, they have their arms, legs, fingers and toes, but the wounds to their brains and their souls will never recover.
The idea to walk across the country started as a running joke during a night of drinking. Instead of talking through their beer cans, the men mobilized for thier fallen brothers and sisters-in-arms.
“We’re having the time of our lives,” Lingo said of the trek that has given both men a way to help alleviate thier memories of the horrors of war.
Cox is a Texas native. Lingo is a U.S. citizen born in Columbia, who has relatives in Kansas and West Virginia. Having time on their hands and a need to cleanse thier minds, the two started their journey June 16 at the Santa Monica Peir in California with the intent of following Route 66 to St. Louis, Missouri, where they’ll hop on U.S. Route 50 - also known as the ‘Lonliest Highway’ - toward Arlington National Cemetary.
“This is closure for us,” Lingo said. “We have friends buried there.”
The reasons for their walk are grim, but also reasons that haven’t gone away.
Veteran suicides are happening at an alarming rate compared to civilian counterparts. Between their two combat deployments, Lingo and Cox know of more than 30 fellow soldiers from their military units who have taken their own lives. The resources to help are out there, but many servicemembers either don’t know, or don’t seek them out.
“We had one friend who posted a suicide message on Facebook, walked out to his backyard, and blew his head off with a shotgun,” Cox said.
That friend, and the experiences of others that led to suicides, was the reason Cox and Lingo started the walk.
“There’s not a book a shrink can read that’ll teach them how to deal with what I’ve seen,” Cox said.
For the men, Kingman was more than a welcoming community. Canyon 66 Ramada put them up for three nights. Station 66 on Thompson Avenue and Eastside Shell Station on Andy Devine Avenue helped them with gas (the men alternate between walking and following the other in a car). The Elks Lodge No. 468 provided food and water. Other assistance came from the Jerry Ambrose Veterans Council, KOA Kampgrounds of America and the Arizona Department of Economic Security vocational rehabilitation program.
The men were enjoying a hearty lunch Friday, courtesy of the Elks Lodge. Joining them were JAVC President Pat Farrell, his wife, Casey, Station 66 store manager Rachel Duhaime, and Jason Millin, member of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Mohave County Chapter.
“(Veterans) see this and know that someone cares,” Millin said. “You do this for us.”
As of Monday, Lingo and Cox were ready to hit the road again. About five soldiers were initially going to join them, but had to bow out due to family and work. So far, it’s been the two of them, but they encourage participation and have had a few curious bystanders walk a few blocks here and there.
Both carry a small backpack full of water and snacks. Lingo has speakers rigged to his so he can listen to music and audiobooks. Their walk along Route 66 has been mellow for the most part. They’ve run into a few strange, but curious, travelers and crossed paths with snakes and other wildlife.
“I found a shopping cart and took it for a ride,” Cox said of skating on the cart like a kid in a grocery store parking lot.
“I think that was cheating,” Lingo joked.
While finding themselves, they’ve found parts of American history. Their journey on Route 66 took them through the deserts of San Bernardino County, criss-crossing Interstate 40. They spotted many concrete blocks and abandoned cement foundations that were once gas stations and pit stops.
“There’s a lost history here,” Cox said. “There are parts of this road that people would rather push over than fix.”
The men are on thier way to Flagstaff and plan to end their trip November 11, Veterans Day, at Arlington National Cemetary.
As a departing gift, a woman in Oregon tracking their walk online called Rutherford’s 66 Family Diner andpaid for shakes. The restaurant had them delivered to the men while they were walking down the road.
“That was one the most awesome things ever,” Cox said. “This is the best stop we’ve made so far.”
To track thier journey, lend a helping hand, go to https://www.facebook.com/Deuceforlife/.