University of Miami senior and Marine Corps vet Jeff Fowler plans to hike the entire Appalachian Trail this spring to help raise money for the military charity Higher Ground Sun Valley.
“In honor of all of the friends we lost … I will be hiking from Georgia to Maine, which is about 2,170 miles,” he said.
Fowler plans to start his hike in the beginning of March, and he hopes to complete his mission sometime in August. He will be accompanied at various parts of the trek by other friends.
Throughout the hike he plans to engage with his supporters, and during different check in points he plans on letting his supporters know how close he is to his goal using a live feed of his GPS.
Higher Ground helps injured service members and their spouses learn coping strategies and gain physical skills and confidence to make the transition back home a smooth process.
As part of the Higher Ground military program, participants are given therapy through a sports camp, where they are allowed to choose a specific adventurous sport as their main activity.
Fowler and his wife spent a week of snow skiing and bonding with other vets when he retired from the service.
“As much as it helped me,” Fowler said, “I’m thinking of all of my friends who could benefit.”
Fowler served during the Iraq invasion in 2003, the war in Fallujah in 2007, the war in Afghanistan in 2008, and he was a Combined Anti – Armor Team (CAAT) section leader in charge of 23 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsman.
He joined the Marines at age 17 and retired in 2009. Shortly after, he joined a hard hat diving team, which he said was composed mostly of vets. When his time as a hard hat diver was up, he came to UM to study criminology so that he could continue to serve his country.
Before enlisting, Fowler grew up in a military family in Chesnee, SC where his interest in charity work first started.
“I had a friend who had just completed a bike ride across the country from Boston to Seattle in honor of a KIA or a killed in action,” he said.
Fowler also wanted to complete the challenge, after seeing his friend challenge himself to raise money for his military community.
“I grew up with the Appalachian Trails in my backyard and it’s something I’ve always thought about doing,” he said.
In preparation for the trip, Fowler carries a 60lb back pack up and down hilly parking lot garages to simulate the hills he will encounter when hiking.
He said that he hopes to raise $25,000 with the help from UM’s Veteran Student Organization (VSO), of which he is a member. VSO will be promoting his cause to UM students and fellow veterans. Representatives of the Higher Ground organization said they would be sending out press releases as the event approaches.
“We’re going to help with advertising and that kind of thing,” said Tyra McGuffie, director of development at Higher Ground. “We have a page on the website, but he’s doing most of it himself.”
Fowler plans on getting the majority of his funds through word of mouth and his website so as not to rely on money that could otherwise be donated.
“We have no sponsors,” Fowler said. “All of our exorbitantly expensive gear and food is coming out of our own pockets. We didn’t want to detract from the pool of funds going to help our brothers; it’s a labor of love.”
According to Fowler, one of the main reasons he wanted to raise money for Higher Ground’s organization was to help combat the high number of veteran suicides.
The suicide rate among veterans and active service members has risen to 22 suicides a day according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
To keep updated on Fowler’s progress, or donate to his cause, visit karellahikeat.org. For more information on Higher Ground, visit highergroundsv.org.