WORTHINGTON — U.S. Marine Corps veteran Brian Romans has taken a week off from his information technology job at Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center to take a long walk, 96 miles from Linton to the Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis, to raise awareness and money for a wilderness retreat to benefit troubled soldiers who have returned from war.
He may have taken on too much. Romans stumbled into Worthington's American Legion Post 106 dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion late Thursday afternoon. He was checked out by medics who wanted to transport him to Greene County General Hospital for intravenous fluids, but he refused the suggested treatment.
Don't suggest he abandon his quest. Romans' plan was to set off again at 5 a.m. today.
Walking short stints with him, and riding in a support vehicle alongside the rest of the way, is Maria Salgado, a Texas woman whose son never came home from war. Benjamin Salgado Rosales was 20 when a roadside bomb in Iraq's Al Anbar province took his life on Oct. 4, 2006. Romans and Rosales were in the same Camp Lejeune battalion, where Romans was a commanding officer and trainer who oversaw Rosales for 18 months.
"I raised him in the Marine Corps. I looked out for him," Romans said, sipping a cup of iced water a few hours after he arrived in Worthington.
His eyes welled with tears and Salgado put her arm around his shoulder to pull him close. "I thank you for that," she whispered.
Salgado had begged her son not to join the military, but his heart and mind were set on being a Marine. Since his death, she has become an advocate for supporting other veterans, the ones who returned with violent images of war imprinted in their minds forever. "They went through what my son went through. All of them are my sons. My love spills out for them."
Romans, a Marine staff sergeant who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, lives in Bloomfield with his wife and three children. He said it's people such as Salgado who propel him to continue building his Romans Warrior Foundation, established to help returning veterans deal with the depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome that plague so many.
He wants to buy land in Greene County for a wounded warrior retreat, where veterans can escape to the peace and quiet of nature for fishing, kayaking, hiking and other activities away from the rest of the world. "As a patient of PTSD since 2004, I can tell you that sitting around a campfire at night with other vets is the best therapy I ever got," Romans said.
"My purpose is to raise awareness about veteran suicides and PTSD," Romans said while trekking along Ind. 157, headed from Bloomfield to Worthington Thursday afternoon with Heath Murray, a former Greene County law enforcement officer who joined him in the march to Indianapolis.
He seeks pledges, and also other walkers to join his mission. "I invite mothers to join him, to walk in our shoes for a mile and make a donation," said Salgado, who has a denim jacket with a picture of her son, in uniform, printed on the back and obituaries of soldiers her son knew clipped to the pocket. Weighed down by loss and grief, she works to help soldiers who survived the carnage her son did not.
"Maria, she is my inspiration," Romans said. He waited almost a decade to contact her after Rosales' death, but made the phone call to Houston after a motorcycle-deer accident last fall that he somehow survived. He knew there was something he had to do. "I called Maria on Veterans Day and we talked for almost three hours."
His Warrior Hike started at 5 a.m. Thursday. Conditions were hot and humid; not many people had joined them. A 31-year-old man who saw it on Facebook walked for four miles, joining as Romans passed his house, and a woman ran out of her home and gave them a donation. "It's just miserable," Romans said of the conditions as he neared the end of the first day. "I would rather be in Afghanistan where 120 degrees is more tolerable than 90 degrees with 100-percent humidity, which is what it feels like out here."
A spaghetti dinner served by volunteers at the American Legion offered people a chance to learn more and donate to the foundation.
Is he a long-distance walker, an experienced hiker? "Hell no," Romans said, although he did complete a few training hikes, the longest being 18 miles. "This is new. But we'll get there."
The five-day walk is divided into segments: Linton to Worthington, Worthington to Spencer, Spencer to Martinsville, Martinsville to Mooresville and Mooresville to Indianapolis. Romans will arrive at the Indiana War Memorial Plaza on Monday, which is National PTSD Awareness Day.
How to help
The Romans Warrior Foundation is a tax-exempt public charity.
For more information, go to http://www.romanswarriorfoundation.org.
Donations can be sent through PayPal, a Go Fund Me account or by mail to: Romans Warrior Foundation, 313 E. Abrams Road, Bloomfield, Indiana 47424.