When Austin Shirley of Plano, Texas completed his service with the Navy, he felt at loose ends, unsure about his plan for future and how to reintegrate into civilian life. So he decided to take a year to dedicate himself to helping fellow veterans. He sold all of his possessions, stocked up on gear at REI, and began to walk across the country with his dog Archer to raise money for Wounded Wear, a nonprofit that increases awareness about injured veterans and provides them with clothing adapted to their physical needs, or shirts that just lets passersby know that the wearer was injured while serving the country.
(NationSwell profiled the nonprofit’s founder, Jason Redman, earlier this year.)
Shirley began his journey, which he calls the Chasing the Sun campaign, last October in Jacksonville, Florida. Along the way, he called his friend and fellow Navy vet, Bryan Cochran. Redman told Ryan Van Velzer of AZCentral that Cochran told his friend, “Times are tough. I lost my job and I’m in a veteran’s shelter right now.” So Shirley invited him to join his mission, and they’ve been walking together since Shreveport, Louisiana. The vets’ goal? To raise $50,000 for Wounded Wear. By the time they arrived in Phoenix on April 25, they’d raised about $30,000.
Redman told Van Velzer that the two walkers have been sleeping in a tent along their journey. “Ninety percent of the time they find a spot off the road and they sleep in the tent and they’ll stop at small stores along the way and gather food. Also along the way they meet a lot of amazing, interesting people who offer to buy them food and say, ‘Hey, you can sleep here tonight.’ The generosity of the American people is a pretty amazing thing.”