Walk Hard making a difference for wounded veterans

Spc. Lance Gieselmann (center) accompanies fellow veterans and members of Alpha Tau Omega's Walk Hard during last year's event.

Spc. Lance Gieselmann (center) accompanies fellow veterans and members of Alpha Tau Omega's Walk Hard during last year's event.

Spc. Lance Gieselmann knows about sacrifice.

In 2003, Gieselmann’s tank drove over an improvised explosive device, creating an explosion that left the two other passengers dead and Gieselmann with life-changing injuries.

For the last six years, the Purple Heart recipient has enjoyed meeting and bonding with other veterans who share similar stories, thanks to Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures.

“I started going to Jeep’s events because I was looking forward to hunting, but I meet so many wounded soldiers that are just like me and have gone through the same thing,” Gieselmann said. “We get a fellowship going where we can talk about our problems and not be judged.”

Walk Hard, the Troy University Alpha Tau Omega chapter’s philanthropic walk from Troy to Panama City Beach, is the primary fundraiser for the nonprofit, which takes wounded veterans and their families on hunting and fishing trips.

“Last year, we took out 77 different veterans in 13 states,” Sullivan said. “Walk Hard has become our biggest fundraiser, and it brought in $47,000 last year. We use that to provide these services to veterans at no cost to them. They don’t pay for travel, fishing and hunting licenses, fishing tackle or ammunition.”

The trips are about far more than enjoying the outdoors. They also serve as valuable therapy for veterans who are often dealing with mental and emotional trauma.

“I enjoy the fellowship more than the hunting,” Gieselmann said. “We also get to minister to each other – a lot of what we do is fellowship and talking about the gospel together. Some of these things Jeep’s doing are keeping people from committing suicide. A couple people have told me that. He’s saving people’s lives.”

Sacrifice. It’s a word Gieselmann has lived out and a word that defines his fellow wounded veterans.

And yet it’s also a word he associates with the Walk Hard participants.

“Look at these men walking on their spring break for something other than themselves,” he said. “They’re not getting anything out of it except sore feet and aching muscles. They’re not making money for themselves, but for wounded veterans. Looking back on my life when I was young like that, I don’t think it would’ve crossed my mind to walk 128 miles for someone else.”

Sullivan said the walk provides lessons for the students about the sacrifices veterans have made for them.

“It helps Troy University students realize freedom isn’t free, but it also helps our veterans greatly,” he said.

Gieselmann provided the following photo gallery: