Fog and dampness greeted the brothers of Alpha Tau Omega on the Troy Campus Quad Friday morning, but it couldn’t smother the excitement and energy of the 36 Walk Hard 2022 hikers and their supporters.
Walk Hard, the annual philanthropy fundraiser of the Troy University chapter of ATO, raises funds for wounded veterans through area mission Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures based in Bonifay, FL. The brothers hike 128.3 miles from the Quad to Pier Park over six days of their Spring Break week. Along the way, the ATO’s traverse the cities of Troy, Enterprise and Hartford in Alabama and Bonifay, Vernon, Ebro and Panama City Beach in Florida.
Since its inception in 2009, more than $400,000 has been raised to support wounded warriors. This year’s goal is $90,000, and the fraternity hopes to break the $100,000 mark.
Barry McKnight, the Voice of the Trojans, spoke to the gathering on behalf of TROY Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr.
“First let me say that the entire Troy University community is proud of you for giving up your spring break to serve others. You are modeling a positive dimension of Greek life that often goes unnoticed. You are a credit to this University, a credit to the Greek organizations on this campus, to your families and to this outreach. Walk Hard is not just about the brothers of ATO — it’s about those you serve,” he said.
At the Chancellor’s request, McKnight read an essay written by Paul Kozak, a member of the “Third Herd Platoon” of U.S. Marines led by Dr. Hawkins in Vietnam. The essay cast into context the reason the fraternity supports American veterans through Sullivan’s mission.
“When you leave this morning, remember you are walking for wounded warriors like Paul Cossack and others who have demonstrated that freedom is not free. It is paid for by the blood of patriots,” he said.
One of those patriots chose to walk with the brothers. Eric Shaffer, who retired from the U.S. Marine Corps last week as a sergeant major, spoke to hikers at a gathering Thursday night. He’s one of several veterans who Sullivan has lined up to speak and fellowship with the hikers throughout their six-day “march to the sea.”
He said he hoped to show his support for them and provide some motivation on their trek. As a former drill instructor, he’s well-tuned for the mission. However, he said the mission is one that saves lives and transforms families.
“What they do is tremendous. I’ve met some of the guys that (Sullivan) has taken on some of these hunts. They’ve been able to change peoples’ lives, and that changes families,” he said.
Shaffer got to know Jeep Sullivan because he has been a beneficiary of the program.
“What Jeep is able to do is to save lives. When that happens, then families are saved. That’s what is so important about supporting (ATO) in Walk Hard. They’re helping to save veterans and their families,” he said.
That’s a point not lost on the ATO brothers, even those who are new to the fraternity membership and walking for the first time, such as Ely Grice, of Troy.
“Being able to walk for people who can’t, or just being out to support them, is the least we can do,” he said. “I’m looking forward to walking with my brothers and getting closer to them and raising money for to support our veterans.”
More about Jeep Sullivan’s Outdoor Adventures is available on the organization’s website. Additional resources on the Walk Hard are also on the internet, and donations can be made online at CrowdChange.
More photography from this morning’s sendoff is available at troy.edu/photo.
“It’s not going to be fun at all times; it’s not going to be easy at all times but its’ going to be worth it,” said Matthew Taylor, Walk Hard 2022 director. “It’s not about the pain we go through it’s about giving these guys the opportunity to live on through Jeep’s ministry and have another day.”