HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES - When brothers of Troy University’s Alpha Tau Omega fraternity travel to Panama City Beach for spring break this weekend, it won't be to party.
In fact, by time they reached the beach Wednesday, spring break will be practically over.
The Kappa Beta chapter will begin their trek Friday, March 9, from their campus in Troy, Alabama, to Panama City Beach to raise money for Jeep Sullivan’s Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures, the Bonifay-based charity that allows veterans to participate in hunting trips and other outdoor experiences.
Walk Hard has been a tradition of the fraternity for several years, passing through both Holmes and Washington County as they walk first along highways and byways from Troy through South Alabama, cross the Alabama-Florida line and end their six-day, 128.3-mile hike on the sands of Panama City Beach’s Pier Park.
This year, the fraternity will have a little extra support as they pass through Bonifay and Vernon.
Diane Little has worked with other women from various Bonifay churches to help organize creature comforts for the young men as they pass through Bonifay March 11.
"The guys are coming Sunday night," said Little. "When they get to Bonifay, it's the 70 mile mark and that's when, in the past, we have seen that their feet hurt very much, and they're discouraged and tempted to quit. Like our soldiers, they carry heavy backpacks on their walk. It truly is a hard walk, but it's done in honor of our service men and women."
Jeep Sullivan made arrangements for the walkers to spend the night on cots in the old Holmes County High School gym Sunday evening following meal provided by local residents and a program which will feature personal testimonies and prayers for the college students.
"We will ask the Lord to be with them and make the trek easier," said Little. "We know that they know it is going to hurt, but they continue doing it. We are so appreciative of what they're doing."
After breakfast on Monday, the first walkers will continue their journey around 7 a.m., although they will not be walking in a group. Local veterans are invited to gather at a seating area that will be arranged at Son's Tires, located at 202 S. Waukesha Street.
Signs sporting the ATO and Jeep Sullivan logos saying, "We Support the Wounded Warrior Walk" will also be placed along the route in Holmes and Washington Counties to show support.
As the young men enter Washington County, they will see more support from people like Family Nurse Practitioner, Dawn Frost of Vernon Family Health Center.
Frost and others from the practice will also help feed the walkers, who are expected to spend the night in Vernon Monday, and show support by displaying signs and offering to help if needed.
As a veteran herself, who served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserve as a healthcare provider, Frost says the walk is close to her heart.
"During one of my deployments, I was in Germany, and we never knew what happened to any of our patients," she said. "It's just the way of war. Then, through fate - and Jeep Sullivan - I was able to once again meet one of the patients I took care of. Jeep does a really good job for our heroes, and supports them as much as possible. I'm trilled that we can be part of the Wounded Warrior Walk."