It’s about 2,150 miles from Camp Pendleton, Calif., to Fort Benning. That’s the distance, give or take a few miles, John Coté walked in just under 100 days; he left Camp Pendleton April 1 and arrived on post July 7.
The reason for his trek? Coté wanted to support the Fisher House Foundation, a charity that provides housing for family members of patients receiving care at military and Veterans Affairs medical centers. Through the walk, he raised $36,000 for the foundation.
The son of a World War II and Korean War Infantry officer — his dad was wounded in both conflicts — Coté became intrigued by the Fisher House mission when he first heard about it in 2003. Exactly one year before his arrival at Fort Benning, Coté decided what he would do to make a difference, he said.
“I knew it mattered. I got to thinking: I have to do something to participate in this effort, so I chose to walk,” said Coté, who trained for eight months before he began his journey.
Coté covered about 22 miles a day for 98 days, doubling back to drive his car from point to point along the way. He chose to start his walk at a Marine base and end it at an Army post because those are the two services that currently have the most wounded warriors.
“Really the whole thing I wanted to do is to raise awareness for the families of wounded military,” he said. “The family is hugely important … especially to a wounded service person. The Army Family actually means something — it’s not just a slogan, and Fisher House really understands how important it was to have wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, father, brother at the side of that wounded Soldier who just lost an arm. It’s so important to the healing.”
Cindy Campbell, community liaison for the Fisher House, said that’s what having family nearby translates to: “an environment conducive to healing.”
“As soon as you walk in the door, you really feel a sense of family support and caring,” she said. “It’s a place where your family can be around you and help you heal.”
There’s no cost or time limit for families of service members or veterans, and the wounded warrior is invited to stay in the suite, too, while continuing the process of long-term care. Lauren Rogan, who PCSed to Fort Benning about a year ago, remembers when her husband, 2LT Jay Brend, needed a routine surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
She stayed on the hospital campus, dined in the cafeteria and saw many of the injured men and women who were healing there.
“I saw young — very young — Soldiers eating dinner with their new wives. I remember seeing another Soldier with a leg amputation above the knee. He was fitted with a prosthetic device and was … I remember feeling shocked because he was bouncing around, full of energy and excitement despite the obvious life-altering injury. It appeared that this Soldier was accompanied by his civilian brother and the pair were on their way to go shoot hoops,” Rogan said.
“My sadness at seeing the sick and injured was buoyed by the sense of comfort and normalcy that came from having the military members’ loved ones present. There must have been 10 other groups of family members and friends also waiting.” That’s why the Rogans decided to give to the Walk for Warriors fund, which supports the Fisher House. “I don’t think anyone knew how unseasonably hot this summer was going to be — all the more credit to Mr. Coté’s incredible physical endeavor — what a selfless sacrifice of time, energy and sneakers,” Rogan said. Coté’s stay on Fort Benning was brief. Although his son, SPC John Claude Coté, is in Ranger School, he wasn’t able to visit him on this trip. Coté said he planned to return to California with a commitment to continue raising awareness about wounded warriors and military families.
“It’s kind of an outrageous thing to do — leave your job, leave everything, and go walk across the country,” he said. “Well, you almost have to do that to shock people out of their complacency. The key for me was … do the mileage. I didn’t want to have a luxury deal. I wanted to pound it out. I wanted it to be challenging, and it was. It was the greatest experience of my life.”
To read more about Coté’s journey, visit www.walkforwarriors.blogspot.com. For more on the Fisher House Foundation, go to www.fisherhouse.org.