Episode 118 – Giving Tuesday Edition with Tom Voss

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Tom Voss is an Army veteran who’s post-military service struggles resulted in a 2,700-mile hike across the country, featured in the Emmy-nominated documentary, Almost Sunrise.

He’s an incredible person, and is a great spokesman for using community and physical fitness for recovery.

In this week’s podcast, we discuss:

• His post-military service struggles and how they came to a head.

• What is was like to hike across the country with another veteran.

• Almost Sunrise, and the decision to film his journey.


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JJ Pinter: 00:00 Hey everyone, it’s JJ with a quick note before we start the podcast. Today’s guest is Tom Voss. He’s an incredible veteran who had some struggles post army service, and he was able to address those struggles with community and physical fitness, ultimately culminating in a 700 mile walk across the country. It’s an incredible story. To some extent. Tom’s story is unique to him, but in other regards it’s completely normal and pretty typical with veterans. Tom was able to really address the challenges in his life through community and physical fitness, exactly what we do at Team RWB. Today’s podcast is a special giving Tuesday edition and I would invite you to go to the link in the show notes. We’re running a campaign or on giving Tuesday because we want to be able to help more veterans, people like Tom and we can only do it with your help. So go to the link in the show notes. Consider supporting team order to be on giving Tuesday. We’ve got an awesome campaign going with a really cool multicam team shirt. Be sure you’ll never see another one like it. So go to the show notes. Check it out and we would love it if you consider supporting us and telling your friends and family about it. Without further ado, today’s podcast.

JJ Pinter: 01:12 This is the Eagle Nation podcast where we talk about building richer lives and stronger communities. Have inspiring guests to have real conversations about things that you care about.

JJ Pinter: 01:24 Hey everyone. This is JJ. Welcome to another edition of the Eagle Nation podcast. I’ve got a pretty amazing guests on the line with me and I’m excited to dig in and learn a little bit more about him and his story. He’s a super interesting guy and so also interesting because he’s sitting in Ventura, California and I was just in Ventura, California the weekend, which is pretty crazy. So Tom Bosses, my guest today. Tom, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast. So let me describe how we kind of got to this conversation before we jump in. We just finished up the old glory relay, which is a kind of cross country event, the team or to be puts on every year and it was supposed to arrive. It ended in San Diego on veteran’s day and I was supposed to be coming out for the end of the Oglala relay and actually had hoped to kind of link up and you know, put some miles on, kind of as the flag came into San Diego, but I guess, you know, tragically the shooting in thousand oaks, California happened a couple of days before the end of the Oglala relay and unfortunately a member of our staff and a couple other team members were killed in that shooting.

JJ Pinter: 02:37 And so we had to do some, some redirection to be able to kind of support the families and the chapters the at the same time. There were some pretty terrible wildfires going on in California which made it more complicated for everybody to get around. And Tom was supposed to come down and take in the end of the old glory relay. And I had been hearing a lot about him and I was hoping to get a chance to meet him and you know, for a whole host of reasons that wasn’t able to happen. So I’m getting a chance to meet him now on the podcast.

Tom Voss: 03:14 Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. Yeah. I was kind of cut off by forest fires. They’re meeting up with old glory relied, but I’m glad at the end of the day I’m glad it finished. And uh, everything went well.

JJ Pinter: 03:25 So Tom is a, I’m going to throw out some words here. He’s a veteran. He is a native Midwesterner, which I really like a, he is a veterans advocate. He is a endurance athlete. I guess we do an ultra marathoner. Well, I haven’t completed one yet, so I don’t think I can say that, but aspiring for sure. Aspiring Ultra marathoner. We have a ultra marathoner on our team that I work with a team. Rob, his name’s Dan Bostik. And so I’d like to make fun of him about being half crazy on a daily basis. He actually reached out to Dan actually for, for some tips. He’s been really helpful. So awesome. So yeah, I did, I did. I miss anything big and the description of thematically what makes you, you know, I mean that’s, that’s pretty much it. That’s good. Awesome. Tell me about, this is interesting because normally tom and I would kind of get to know each other before the podcast that wasn’t able to happen this time, so we’re going to get a chance to do this live. Tell me about your military experience. I know you were in the army. Yeah, I think we were in Iraq maybe at a very similar time. Just in different spots. Yeah,

Tom Voss: 04:31 yeah, definitely. I was in 25th five out of Fort Lewis, Washington, so infantry, striker brigade and deploy to Mosul, Iraq

JJ Pinter: 04:40 from 2004 to 2005 for oif too, right? Yeah. The beginning of all. I have three. I believe it was, but um, yeah, 2004, 2005. And so through that, uh, it was a platoon sergeant was killed in action squad leader was killed in action, so it was a pretty impactful deployment on a, on a, on me while I was there. Wow, that’s terrible, man. I, uh, I did not know that. So were you in Mozilla the whole time? Yep. The whole time.

Tom Voss: 05:09 And then my specific role was I was the scout sniper platoon, so we, uh, we’re like kind of a, I like to stay with a utility players and we did a whole host of different things from detaining high value targets to doing humanitarian missions as well.

JJ Pinter: 05:25 So you ended up leaving the army kind of post that experience?

Tom Voss: 05:29 Yeah, I got, I got out in 2006 and basically, yeah, just like, I’m like, okay, that’s good. I got that whole experience and really, uh, went back to Wisconsin where I’m from and tried to carry on with my life and ended up running into a lot of difficulties, which I think kind of stemmed from me wanting to kind of put everything behind me without really actually dealing with it.

JJ Pinter: 05:54 Well, I mean, if you don’t mind me asking mean what were, what were some of the difficulties and you know, how did, how did you start to understand that maybe things weren’t going the way that you had hoped in your transition?

Tom Voss: 06:10 Yeah, I mean I think it’s, what I ended up doing was I really, I felt like I was playing catch up with a lot of my peers because a lot of my friends were ended up graduating college and I’m like, okay, I’m going to jump back into that. So I enrolled in school full time using my gi bill, had to get a, an apartment, had to get my own place, had to get a job, had to do all these things and without even kind of taking a step back to recognize or I dunno, maybe even appreciate what I’ve experienced or what I’ve been through and how it’s impacted me. So I noticed in the beginning that a lot of relationships in my life would end up being destroyed. So I had this kind of cycle that I caught myself repeating of, of being okay for a little while and then crashing and burning and destroying relationships and then trying to pick myself back up and reinvesting in school and you know, doing all these different things. And it just kept happening over and over and over again in my life. So I think, you know, it took me at least two years before I even got into a position where I thought I needed help.

JJ Pinter: 07:15 Did you know like as you were going through this, did you know intuitively that this was happening or did you have people in your life that were telling you this? Or was it just kind of this like death by a thousand paper cuts for you? You didn’t really realize that magnitude of the situation until you were kind of there?

Tom Voss: 07:36 Yeah, it was a little bit of both. I mean I had, fortunately for me, I had a sister, my sister who basically suggested that I should go talk to someone, so it was kind of like, you know, if I can find someone for you, will you go to like a vet center and talk to someone? And I put up some pretty specific requirements for, for that to happen, which was one of them was they had to be a combat veteran who had served in Iraq. And fortunately for me, she found someone who is a clinical social worker that served around the same time that I, that I did. And that’s what got me through the door, I guess you could say. And at the same time I think I knew that, you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t right deep down. I wasn’t really no feeling of feeling all that great about myself or what I had participated in.

JJ Pinter: 08:23 That’s really interesting. A, that’s awesome that you have a, you know, that your sister was there to, to, to be willing to do that and then you could find the right person or someone who worked for you. What was it? Yeah. So I’m asking this question and if any of these are too personal, like please tell me, but I don’t know.

Tom Voss: 08:40 I’m pretty open so it’s all good.

JJ Pinter: 08:42 I’m asking this question because we have at team rev and organization that we have lots of. We interact with lots of veterans and we have, we have veterans that come to us in various places in their life and sometimes, you know, sometimes we come across people that, you know, as, as untrained professionals, it seems like they’re suffering and it seems like they have a need for services that are greater than, than what we provide, you know, which is community community and Camaraderie and physical fitness. But that transition from you see someone, you see a fellow veteran or fellow community member that you think is suffering to having a conversation where you offer up them seeking some additional treatment is like the most minefield laden conversation that, that you could have. And especially if it’s with someone, you know, it’s almost worse. Yeah, totally. Because there’s all this like baggage that can come in with it.

JJ Pinter: 09:47 You know, there’s like maybe if it’s with someone you don’t know as well as maybe a little bit easier, but it’s still incredibly hard and I feel like a lot of people just kind of glanced glaze over that conversation and people will say like, oh well you just, we’ve got this great service over here. We provide counseling to veterans and you just were, you know, were you referred to us? And I’m like, Whoa, Whoa, whoa. That is like the most difficult process in the world to walk up to someone who you think is suffering and to have a conversation that then gets them because you know, you also have to have consent. You can’t just like be given people’s names to someone. It’s just a really difficult conversation. So that’s a really long way of me kind of asking when your sister first had the conversation with you, how did you receive it?

Tom Voss: 10:34 Yeah, like with any, anything like you can’t, you can’t force someone to get help. And it’s really just from my own personal experience and you know, just working with, with veterans over the years, all you can really do is offer, offer the support, but you can’t really make them participate if they don’t want to. So it’s a difficult conversation to have. But uh, the way that it kind of went down with my, my sister was, she just straight up asked me, you know, do you think you need help? And obviously I said no because that’s what, you know is kind of ingrained in us from the military services, you know, you just keep moving forward and drive on. And so she had to do a lot of kind of pulling it out of me. And once I, once I got in there and once I started talking to a clinical social worker, it was the process had the healing process I think can start once you’ve actually physically shown up. Was it at the Vet Center? It was, it was out of that center. And then from there I started exploring my options, stuff like that.

JJ Pinter: 11:40 A lot of people don’t realize, a lot of people don’t even know what vet centers are and I think it’s just like the, this kind of very weird, you know, so vet centers are, if you’re listening to this and you don’t, they are kind of part of the va, but they’re kind of not part of the Va. They’re like community based. Every Town in America of any substance essentially has one or multiple vet centers. They are smaller, they’re in the community. Um, they’re staffed by largely veterans, mostly combat veterans and they, you can just like walk in the door and get help. My understanding is that they can like look into the va’s medical records to see, but the big va kind of healthcare can’t. It doesn’t, it’s not reciprocal. Right. So there’s like a, an air of kind of separation or an amenity. And I’m an and an anonymity. Sorry I can’t talk. But they’re just there. They’re great resources and a lot of people don’t realize that they’re there.

Tom Voss: 12:42 Yeah. And that’s how I started seeking help is because it was a more, I felt more one-on-one. It wasn’t so overwhelming. And at the same time they’re able to advocate for me through the va hospital in waukee where I was living at the time. So it was a grEat place to start.

JJ Pinter: 12:59 So what next you started getting treatment and. Yeah, I mean it really

Tom Voss: 13:06 who really came to me that, you know, I really needed to start taking this seriously. Like I mean I got to the point of suicidal ideations, but like how, how am I going to end up taking my own life? And at this point in the, in the timeline of my story, I’ve already had one guy from our platoon who’s taken his own life, so it wAs kind of like a wake up call for me that I needed to do something pretty drastic. So I ended up walking across the country 2,700 miles to basically take the time to go over and kind of decompress from my time in combat.

JJ Pinter: 13:43 So you just made a jump from decompressing and talking to a counselor to walking 2,700 miles and you didn’t even, you didn’t even change the inflection in your voice when you were talking about it. But that’s a pretty big jump. So if it’s okay, I’d like to go back and ask some questions about that.

Tom Voss: 14:02 Totally. I mean it was really, um, I was on doing traditional therapies. I was on medications and I knew that this wasn’t, it wasn’t helping me too to where I wanted it to be. I got, I guess is the best way of putting it. I mean it was, it was helping but it wasn’t like this is not, it didn’t feel like a longterm solution. So I felt like I needed to do some something pretty drastic to kinda like make that a permanent change in my life or a positive change in my life.

JJ Pinter: 14:33 So where did this, I mean because there’s lots of drastic things you could do. How do you, is this something that you had been in the back of your head that always thought like, oh, it’d be cool to do this or you like red hitchhiking books when you’re a kid? I mean, where did this even come from?

Tom Voss: 14:48 Yeah, I don’t, I don’t even know. I mean, it was really, I think it came to the point of like I never took the time to decompress are really just be like, okay, like all politics aside, like what did I just participate in as a person, as a human being is as you know, what was this experience? What did it mean to me? Like how did it impact me positively, negatively, you know, it would just have never had any time to do any of that kind of stuff. So The walking really gave me the time to kind of do that stuff, to really take a step back and see how did my time in combat impact me. Could you do it by yourself? I did it with another Iraq war veteran and originally it was like, okay, I’m going to go and do this on my own. And my buddy anthony approached me and he’s like, you know, I’m in the same boat. And at that point he had a, he had a daughter and a wife and so he’s like, I gotta do something about this now in my life now. Otherwise, it’s going to have a negative impact on me and my family the rest of my life. So he ended up joining me and we, we completed the journey and five in five months.

JJ Pinter: 15:54 Did yoU know where you’re going?

Tom Voss: 15:56 Yeah, we had a, uh, from when I started, the whole idea was to walk out to California to visit a buddy that I served with and that was the whole idea was to kind of like walk out and then decompressing. I spend a little bit of time with a buddy that I started with at the end.

JJ Pinter: 16:13 So I have a million questions about this because like a lot of people and just like tactical questions because you know, you hear these stories about people doing stuff like this and my experience with a lot of these things, a lot of things in this world is like the thought of doing things is often much more glamorous than actually doing said thing. Right. So you get this idea. What time of the year was it when you left?

Tom Voss: 16:39 We laugh in late august and the whole idea was to get down into the southwest by winter. So we had to book at across the midwest and through Colorado, south through Colorado, south to New Mexico to finishing up with Arizona and California. So we kind of did a, we kinda cut south after we hit Colorado walking. Where were you sleeping? We did a little bit of camping and we also had a lot of supporters that were following us through social media that really bent over backwards to support us and I, they would let us do our laundry. They would feed us, they bring a sense. So for us as combat veterans, I think there’s, there’s kind of a trust issue when you first get back between the veteran and the civilian population. And I think that’s kind of ingrained in us because we don’t really have that luxury as we’re in a combat zone and we kind of made really trust that people that we’re serving with. And so for us it really kind of opened our eyes to, to that, you know, there are a lot of good people out there that want to help veterans and they want to help their families. They just don’t have an outlet to do it and this was, I think the first time we’re doing a fundraiser and walking across the country and doing all these different things that people have an outlet to give and to show respect and do that and that really kind of uplifted anthony and myself as we’re walking across.

JJ Pinter: 18:02 So were you sleeping in random people’s houses? Sometimes,

Tom Voss: 18:07 yeah, sometimes we would, uh, like especially in the midwest we would pick a cemetery or something like that because there were usually a couple miles miles outside of a country town. So, you know, just places off the side of the road like that.

JJ Pinter: 18:21 Did you take a backpack? Yeah, we had our rocks were maybe 60 pounds. So we had everything with us. Was it actually a rock or is it like, you know, like a, not like an actual rock. We can kind of kind to our backs with some nice, a nice or a backpack. So what did you have in it? I think

Tom Voss: 18:41 it was a, we have a couple pairs of clothes, so I mean just maybe like two pairs of pants and socks and just everything that you would need to carry with you, you know, kind of we kind of treated it like a, like a military mission and so you know, you train as you as you fight. So we had, you know, foot powder, the whole, the whole nine yards on that.

JJ Pinter: 19:01 Go change your socks. Yeah, for sure. So I feel like because I have been involved with the old glory lay for five years to include like being in the early days, being like on the road with the flag a lot. I’ve got some experience with like navigating parts of the country by foot or you know, very slowly that you wouldn’t otherwise have and what’s the most lost that you ever got. and if you tell them, if you tell me you didn’t get lost, I’m going to call you a liar.

Tom Voss: 19:30 no, there’s a couple of places where Iowa in particular, because they’re on such a massive grid system that there’ll be times where we’ll be looking at a map on google maps and the road wouldn’t go through, so then we’d have to backtrack like two miles and then go up to miles and over two miles and then add on another, you know, what, five, six miles onto your route to find the right way. So we’ve done that a couple times and Nebraska as well. Nebraska was a massive state to walk across. I think it took us over a month, a month to do where, you know, there was a couple of times where you can’t, they just have to kind of figure it out.

JJ Pinter: 20:09 What’s the sketchiest situation that you’re in? We’ve had situations where

Tom Voss: 20:14 people have pulled over on the side of the road and had been drinking or you know, any kind of stuff like that. But there’s one, there’s one situation in Iowa where there was maybe, and we’re literally in the middle of nowhere there would, you know, no cell service and no one insight. And there was maybe three, three or four pickup trucks doing burnouts and stuff and there’s a bunch of dudes who were day drinking and jumping off the bridge and stuff like that. And we’re like, oh man, like this is the last thing we need is like a confrontation in the, of nowhere in Iowa. So, um, that was kind of a, there’s some sketchy situations like that that happened, but nothing, nothing really happened at all negatively. I guess you could say through the, through the duration of the track.

JJ Pinter: 21:00 Were you walking on the road Most of the time or like was there trails that you were able to get off and get on or.

Tom Voss: 21:06 Yeah, there’s, there’s, sometimes we were able to, depending on the town or the city we were walking through, we could, we could zip through on, on bike paths or trails and stuff like that, which was really nice. But then there’s remote. The majority of the time it was county highways and state roads and stuff like that. So usually walking parallel to main freeways as we didn’t walk on the freeways.

JJ Pinter: 21:27 So I’m interested in the journey. Yeah, I’m going to give you a terrible, terrible quote, but hopefully like, I think it’s a good analogy. there’s this terrible movie, I think it was called knock around guys. Have you, have you seen it? Vin diesel. So there’s this, it’s like these new yorkers and they ended up going to like Montana or something for some reason in vin diesel was like the tough guy in forest when he like he gets in a bar fight before he does. He tells this story about how, you know, he decided that he needed to get into like 300 street fights in order to become a legitimate tough guy. right. And he’s like, given this speech and at the end of the speech, it’s basically he said he just kinda said somewhere along the line it stopped being about like trying to reach a certain number and it started just being about the journey and then at some point and he just realized that like he’s like at some point I just realized I was there. Right. And it wasn’t like some brand destination. I’m absolutely butchering the question here, but what I want to ask is like, so this is a journey that was intended to be about healing right? Five months long. Right. I’m wondering if. I’m sure you didn’t just show up in California like, oh, I woke up this day and like everything’s good. I’m wondering about the healing process as you moved across the country, but specifically about not necessarily the healing process about your perception of the healing process, if that makes sense.

Tom Voss: 23:02 Yeah. Well, obviously it changed over time as as you’re, you’re on it, so it’s, it’s interesting to look at in the beginning you’re like, you know, you think you’re just starting out of desperation of wanting to feel better and wanting to be better in general and not feel the way that you do anymore. And then I think through the process he started realizing that it’s through the people that you’re meeting, the, the peer support that you receive the different times you go into the va and you’re like, okay, well this didn’t really work and I didn’t like this and that’s this. ThIs is all part of that journey, which is, I agree with you that I don’t think it’s like a destination. I don’t think one day I’m gonna wake up and be like, I’m a 100 percent better because I think it’s just experience what we’ve experienced in, in, in war. I mean there’s really no going back after that. I think it’s really how do you take the events that have impacted you negatively and how do you take those and turn them into positive lessons in your life and then continuing to be a service to go out and share those experiences with others so they can heal and learn and help others. In tuRn.

JJ Pinter: 24:18 So two questions. I don’t want to, I don’t want to make presumptions here, but if I go by the averages, the average veteran gained about 40 pounds in a few years. PoSt military service. I don’t know if that was your experience as well, but I’m wondering like physically had you let yourself go and then you know, so like the experience. So then you’re, you’re, you’re then doing something very physical, like walking all day. What was that like?

Tom Voss: 24:46 Yeah, it was something I was totally unfit and I’m still, it’s something that I’m still working towards right now and that’s kind of why I’m throwing this, this challenge of this ultra marathon coming in there because it’s like continuing that continuously, you know, taking, taking a test to see, you know, how are you able to achieve goals that you want to achieve, you know, things like that. So the track across the country, I was, you know, not in shape at all and I think a lot with a lot of veterans to like myself, I threw out physical fitness, you know, and I [inaudible] I lumped it in with a lot of the negative things for the military without actually taking time to step back and be like, okay, well there are some positive things that I can pull from my experience and they weren’t all bad.

Tom Voss: 25:31 And so just starting. I mean we set a goal to walk 20 miles a day, five days in a row and then every fifth day we’d take that day off to rest and relax. So thAt’s kind of our strategy walkIng across the country. And like within, I would say within the first 10 blocks, my, my feet were like, covered in like I had a blister on my heel within like the first day of leaving for milwaukee. It was, it was absolutely horrible. So it’s um, you know, there’s a lot, it was pretty painful to get your body to get into a place and I don’t think it was until we got to Colorado where our body was, black bodies were used to getting up and moving and walking 20 miles a day and doing all that stuff. So it was kind of a, a drink from a fire hose kind of mentality and perspective and a strategy, I guess you could say.

JJ Pinter: 26:23 Well I think it’S interesting because you, you set off on this thing around what seems to me as like largely lookIng to improve your mental health. Right? Right. But then at the same time, it’s like you got to contend with which use an army term here. Like you got to hit the 50 meter target before you can hit the 300. Right? So you physically got to be able to walk back to be able to do this and so you have like this physical challenge that you got to contend with first, which is like, hey, I’m out of shape, my feet are soft, my legs are soft. I’m not used to carrying a heavy backpack. My shoulders hurt. All of these things. You’ve got to get through that first. I just think it’s an interesting dynamic. It’s super challenging,

Tom Voss: 27:06 But it’s like, you know, how bad do you want it? And it’s like, do you want, do you want to feel better? Do you want to like make it on this journey? You’re going to have to go through some discomfort because it’s like, you know, getting rid of these, some of these disciplines that we had, you know, you’d have to go back and kind of start over and that’s kinda what I was.

JJ Pinter: 27:22 So how far were you into it before you were able to kind of look at yourself and say, hey, like I’m starting to feel better. Before you had that realization before you, I’m sure you had these moment, you wake up in the morning, you’re like, oh god, everything hurts, you know, but you’re just, you know, before you were able to kind of look at yourself in the mirror and say, you know, maybe it’s not great or maybe it’s not where I want to be, but like I feel better. This is working.

Tom Voss: 27:50 Yeah, it was really. I think once we got past Colorado and started, I knew that it wasn’t as dramatic as I was. I was hoping it would be, I guess you could say. So it’s like really, okay, now that I’ve had the time to kind of step back and take a look at it, but it’s like, what’s, what’s that mean to me and how does that define me, you know, as, as a person and how do they sing from my deployment experience? How are they impacting me and you know, how are they going to define me or not define me? Or what does that look like? So I think that just taking those first steps, this, this track across the country to really take a look at what I needed to heal and where I knew what direction I needed to go. so I think from, from that, from that standpoint, it was hugely beneficial and I wish I was like nice and neat and easy to the point of like, okay, I sent her to this and now I feel a lot better. But the reality of it was that I knew that I had a lot of work to do and that I needed to continue to do it if I wanted to feel better.

JJ Pinter: 28:55 What was the most physically miserable? Not mentally, but just like physically miserable that you were doing the trip, like cold wet Hungary.

Tom Voss: 29:06 I would say, uh, the mojave desert was pretty, pretty bad. It was. We had the, the, some winds that were sometimes 40 miles an hour that would just stand us up with our bags. So we’re like basically sailboats walking down the road, which we would have to duck off under little over. They have these like little bridges all the way through. So we’re literally going from bridge underpass, an underpass, so like stay out of the wind and the sand and the and the sun. So that was pretty miserable. Was there

JJ Pinter: 29:41 any pieces of gear that you didn’t have that you wish you would have to? Like if you could just from a gear perspective, if you could go at the end of the trip, you. He looked back to today one and you could say I wish I would’ve had. I would’ve put this thing in my rucksack or I would’ve had this piece of gear. What would it have been?

Tom Voss: 30:00 Yeah, we ended up using a lot more duct tape for our feet than we expected. Just from a like blister management standpoint. If you’re doing that much walking, it doesn’t matter what, what brand you use or what kind of over the counter stuff you use for blisters. It’s not going to work out. It’s not going to hold up very well. So we just ended up using duct tape on her feet. So that was the, the quick and easy solution to taping up your feet when he had blisters. So that, that was something that was ended up being

JJ Pinter: 30:32 the thought of pulling duct tape off or blister. It’s making me cringe a little bit just because that sounds like it’s absolutely miserable.

Tom Voss: 30:40 Well, yeah, you can throw some bandaids over it, but before, but yeah, it’s um, depending on the size of the blister that, I mean anthony, when I was walking with them, he had a, basically a three fourths of his foot was a blister at one point. So it’s like sometimes we just didn’t even know what to do to manage the size, the size and the severity of some of these blisters.

JJ Pinter: 31:02 What percentage of time were you guys talking?

Tom Voss: 31:05 That’s interesting. What an interesting question for sure because peer support, it was definitelY something that has really helped me a overall, or at least talking to another veteran did. It doesn’t even hAve to be a veteran that had deployed the same place or at the same time or you know, you just have that, that connection. So I think we really use some time to bounce ideas off of each other and we, we set out immediately to be like, we’re not going to listen to music or play music because that’s kind of distracting us from what we kInd of set up to do. So we spend time kind of talking about are similar situations that but you know, that are unique to each one of us and kind of bounce ideas off of each other and strategies on how to handle these different things, how they may make us feel and really taking it from a strategic kind of mission standpoint of how I’m going to go about doing this and how, what, what are the strategies that can implement to make it effective.

Tom Voss: 32:08 So. And then there’s times where we didn’t walk next to each other at all. And anthony’s particular much, much taller than me. He’s about six [inaudible] four and his strides. We’re just so much bigger than my. There’ll be times where he would just be not out. I’ll walk me. So there’ll be times where we had a rule set up to where if we’re out of eyesight, the other person would wait until we could see each other again. Then we start walking again because there’ll be, sometimes there’d be distances, you know, in the mojave where you can see 90 miles, you can see the next three, four days of walkIng ahead of you, which is really a disheartening.

JJ Pinter: 32:44 What was like your most. I know you said you use duct tape a what? Like, what was the, was there like a piece of gear that you like, your mvp that you’re like, man, for me it would have been like some stove to make coffee. Right? But was there some. Was there some kind of thing. And I couldn’t have made this trip without it.

Tom Voss: 33:00 We had some, at that point we had a, a nice, uh, this was like in 2013. So we had a nice little solar panel that we had with us that it didn’t, uh, at that time it didn’t charge our phone, but it, it let the uh, battery and a little, a little less. So that was a pretty cool to have and if we can just kind of put that on top of our bags as we’re as we’re tracking.

JJ Pinter: 33:24 So tim, tell me what happened at the end. You get to California, things are generally never in reality is kind of glamorous as you think they might be in your head. What was this like? Yeah. So getting into character.

Tom Voss: 33:38 Well, you know, we walked through los angeles and ended at the santa monica pier and it’s really interesting because it’s, you know, realizing you set out, you accomplished your goal and what you’re trying to do and you know, raising awareness for veteran’s issues and starting to work on yourself. And I think the biggest takeaway that I got from it was that how much work I needed to do, you know, even even after complaining this truck across the country, it was just like, okay, like this is basically allowed me to acknowledge that I need more help. So it was kind of a kicking off point for me that I was going to be completely open and try as many things as I could to help heal or basically just keeping it as simple as possible, you know, what makes me feel better, just in general what makes me feel good, you know, those are the things that I need to start bringing into my life. And when I finished the track that was the kind of direction I started having them.

JJ Pinter: 34:41 So what are those things where, I mean, what are you, what are you doing?

Tom Voss: 34:44 Yeah. So, so right now I’ve, uh, I’ve found a lot of success with meditation and yoga and a nature based therapy. So you’re being out in nature is a really, really important aspect of healing I believe, and meditation, yoga and then started running again. So getting back into endurance, endurance sports and, and starting to do races and stuff like that. So I’m really excited to, uh, next year try the santa barbara 100 out here in California. So that’s kind of crazy to think about. But I’m really excited for the challenge

JJ Pinter: 35:22 ultra runners or a different crowd. I have some of them in my life and there are different crowd of people, but they, everybody university says that they’re also a really cool crowd of people and like just the community that’s around

Tom Voss: 35:38 that sport is pretty special is what I’ve heard.

Tom Voss: 35:41 Yeah. I, yeah. I’m, I’m looking forward to participating in that for sure.

Tom Voss: 35:45 We haven’t talked about this yet. I assume because you’re humble, but there was a documentary made about this journey, right?

Tom Voss: 35:52 Yeah. There was a documentary and we just just got nominated for an emmy because it showed on pbs last year. It was called almost sunrise and it really chronicles the whole journey, the truck across the country and, and how that works, how that played out, I guess you could say.

Tom Voss: 36:09 So it’s interesting. In some senses it’s an unwinnable task to try to represent five months into it. Of course. Right. It was just, it can’t be done, but you can try to tell a good story. I’m going to actually watch this over the, you know, over the weekend with my family. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but looking back and reflecting on it, are you glad that if you pull the, if okay, I want you to pull the impact it’s had on others outside of it for right now, being able to see the movie, just you. Are you glad that you decided to go this route and have cameras involved in some portion of it or would it have been different if it was just like you and anthony just like grinding it out alone? Yeah,

Tom Voss: 36:59 I think it would have been a completely different experience. That’s for sure. And that’s something that anthony, I really kind of weighed before you even start is, you know, do we want, is this going to take away from our own experience of healing? Is this going to take away from just in general, the experience of the track and that’s a lot of it. That’s what we’re asking ourselves when we decided that, you know, in the end it’s more important to, for people to be able to see not the one veteran experience or to veterans experience and how different they are and how dynamic it is and how different it is for each person that experiences more and their own unique way. Um, so we thought it was more important to show what families are going through and what veterans are going through when they come back versus how comfortable we are at the end of the day.

Tom Voss: 37:52 Yeah. It’s interesting because like you probably know this, a lot of veterans are super opinionated about on social media and among other things. And you know, immediately there’s people were like, oh, they’re just doing this to, you know, for fame or like whatever. Right. And so those are all things that you, that you have to weigh. Do you feel like the are, are there things that are in the documentary or not in the documentary looking back on it that you wish were or were not included? You know, sort

Tom Voss: 38:23 of the interesting. It’s they, when they were filming at a shot over 400 hours of footage and they had to make that into a 90 minute film, so there are always, you know, people and characters that ended up, we ended up running into, in like the middle of Iowa that we wish would have been in the film just because they’re just such a good person and it just sometimes you just can’t have all of that in. So there’s a lot of people in situations that would have been awesome for them to be in the film, but I think at the end of the day, the way the film turned out the way it was supposed to and then really, really impactful experience in exploring the concepts. Like a moral. Yeah.

Tom Voss: 39:10 Let’s get into that. I’ve been around the veteran space for awhile and I didn’t hear about. I didn’t hear people using the phrase moral injury until a couple years ago and how it came on my radar is that someone sent. I think someone sent me a book by a journalist named David Wood and that is I think the first time that this idea of moral injury being something unique and someone kind of saying, comparing it to shame and talking about it as it relates to veterans and I still don’t hear a lot of people talking about it. Maybe like in some circles specific to mental health, but just I don’t. I don’t hear it in the larger dialogue very much, but I know this is something that you really care about and this is something that that you have done a lot of work on and have been in a bunch of major media outlets. How did this come to you?

Tom Voss: 40:08 Yeah. It kinda the same way it did with you. It’s really. I read an article. Oh, david would article. Actually, I think it was a online. There was a three part article and after reading about moral injury, but the definition is when you witness or participate in something that goes against your deeply held sense of right or wrong or transgresses your own moral beliefs, structure system, it really kind of gave more depth to what I was experiencing. So I think with posttraumatic stress disorder can run parallel to moral injury. Um, they have overlapping symptoms, depression, anger, these types of things. But it is really interesting to put the framework of moral injury over our experiences as veterans to give us more understanding on, on the veteran experience of what happens when men and women come back.

Tom Voss: 41:09 The way that I think it’s characterized in the book. And the way I’ve had some people explain it to me in this is I’m super simplistic, but something like posttraumatic stress, you know, is, is largely a result of something that happens to a person. A. Whereas moral injury is a lot of times can be something that a person does that then the progression then turns into, you know, I’ve done something bad, therefore I’m a bad person and you’re struggling with something that, that you did, so it’s kind of something that you did versus something that happens to you I think is, is the way it was explained to me. I don’t know if that’s a good distinction or not, but it makes a lot of sense to me intuitively.

Tom Voss: 41:55 Yeah, it’s really. Um, so the way that I describe it is post traumatic stress is like, it’s like a conditioning and a physical conditioning. So we’re in a dangerous situation for a prolonged period of time. Your body adapts to that and it’s just a kind of survival mechanism and that’s not easy to shut off. And then moral injury on a deeper level I think was when you start reflecting on what you participated in, was I justify where these orders correct? Did I do the right thing? You know, could I have done something differently? Here’s a good example of how I experienced it. When my a platoon sergeant was killed in action, I was given the day off so it was kind of a non noncritical, supposed to be a quick mission and then all of a sudden my platoon is not back for hours and hours and hours and I’m sitting there wondering where everyone is and then everyone finally comes back and you know, my platoon sergeant turns out was killed in action. So I had a lot of guilt and shame. Like I wasn’t out there. I wasn’t able to support, I wasn’t able to do my job, you know, how, how could things be different if I was out there, he should be alive, I should be dead. Just these are the moral conflicts of it. And I think it’s a lot more complex than just I get triggered when I hear fireworks, you know, there’s a lot more depth to it on the human level.

Tom Voss: 43:17 So I’d love to talk about community and because yeah, you know, your story to some extent is, is unique to you, but to some extent it’s very similar. At least in components. Too many veterans. And I know community is really something that’s really important to you and that’s something that’s really important to us. The team, rob, we’re, we’re, we spend a lot of time trying to build community among veterans and then with veterans in and larger members of the public. And then this whole idea of physical exercise and fitness is clearly something that’s important to you. It’s, it’s clear. It’s something that’s important to us as well. I’m just interested in when you came to understand the importance of community and physical fitness and I guess when and how did you come to realize that and kind of what are you doing with that today?

Tom Voss: 44:14 Yeah, I think for me, the community piece where they kind of clicked in as soon as I understood that after I got out of the military, I understood how important it was to connect with veterans that had served with. And even if it wasn’t, you know, didn’t serve my platoon or company or whatever it is, just in general, if they have served there a connection there that’s valuable in the context of, of peer support. So from that point on, and that was probably in 2010 or so to understand that it’s really important to cultivate these communities of veterans and non veterans because of the outcomes that we’re seeing now in the suicide epidemic that’s, that’s in our community and really understanding that to combat that we need to really engage each other and uplift each other and support each other and everything that we’re doing so that we can build strong communities again because that’s something that I see that’s lacking today.

Tom Voss: 45:19 How did you hear about team? It’d be.

Tom Voss: 45:21 It was something I heard about actually. I went to a entrepreneurial bootcamp for veterans with disabilities in, at the university of surrey.

Tom Voss: 45:30 Yeah. So I did it.

Tom Voss: 45:32 Yeah, ivmf. So that’s the first. When I first heard it, I heard about that and that was in 2008 I think. And from there I was just always have been traveling so much. So it’s been really difficult. But I’ve, I’ve always tried to, wherever I was, whether it was in Washington dc, I was living there for awhile and getting connected with. It’s been kind of my go to wherever I ended up landing is to reconnect with team our web wherever I end up going. And that has been like every year I’ve been kind of bouncing around. So it’s been kind of a, a nice prebuilt in community for, for me. Wherever I go,

JJ Pinter: 46:09 man, we should, uh, we should hire you. This is some of the exact same things that we say, right? It’s a, used to be a spokesman. We always just say like, we want to be a community of communities so you can almost anywhere you go in the country there’s, there’s hopefully a community of supportive, like-minded people that you can plug into readymade friends, right? And you can at least go somewhere new and go connect with some people that you know you’re going to have shared experiences with and you can go do something with. And it’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s now. We now have put some technology in place to make it much easier than the old days where you had to like wade through facebook groups. But just to see the see what’s going on around and to jump in on a tuesday night run or a thursday night run or a yoga class or crossfit or whatever it is. It’s, it’s one of the things.

Tom Voss: 47:00 Yeah, totally. One of the, I think one of the main, the main points of, of when you’re trying to heal, you need to have a community around you. And it’s like you’re saying that having that built in community wherever you go is super.

JJ Pinter: 47:17 Well, Tom, we, uh, it probably doesn’t seem like it when we going at it for an hour here. Crazy. Huh?

Tom Voss: 47:23 Time flies. Yeah.

JJ Pinter: 47:25 Yeah.

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