By CHRIS COBB, OTTAWA CITIZEN September 7, 2013
Kate MacEachern, the retired army corporal who hit headlines in July after CFB Gagetown brass blocked her from launching a second charity walk for mentally injured soldiers, has started her second charity walk for mentally injured soldiers, a 1,864-kilometre fundraising trek to Ottawa. File photo by Brian Atkinson, Ottawa Citizen.
Photograph by: Brian Atkinson , Brian Atkinson
OTTAWA — Kate MacEachern, the army corporal who hit headlines in July after CFB Gagetown brass blocked her from launching a second charity walk for mentally-injured soldiers, has started her 1,864-kilometre fundraising trek to Ottawa.
"It's going great," she told the Citizen while on her way to New Glasgow, N.S.
"It started quiet but people are stopping and donating and giving their support."
This year she is raising money for the online-help organization Military Minds.
The former tank driver MacEachern, who raised $20,000 for the military charity Soldier On during a much-shorter walk last summer, quit the military in August shortly after base bosses rejected her request to repeat the effort.
Instead of the enthusiastic support she was expecting from Gagetown brass this year, the 34-year-old single mother got the ultimatum: 'Do the walk if you like but not as a serving soldier.'
MacEachern, a member of the Armour School at Gagetown, had been confident of getting her boss's backing because in 2012, then-Defence minister Peter MacKay walked part of the way with her and afterwards was effusive in praise of her efforts.
"Your family, friends, your neighbours here, all Nova Scotians, all Canadians are so proud of your accomplishment, your compassion — your passion for your friends, your colleagues, your comrades — to undertake this enormous journey on their behalf is such a living tribute to those who wore the uniform (and) who continue to wear the uniform." said MacKay. "As the minister of National Defence and your local MP, I am so thankful for what you have done for your community and your country. Thank you, Kate."
MacKay also told her she "epitomized leadership" and personally gave her two weeks off.
Despite this ringing endorsement from the defence minister, her chain of command remained unimpressed and said they couldn't afford to give her the time and had insurance and cost concerns over the walk.
But a shocked MacEachern, who has three sponsors this year, insists there would have been no cost to her base and on her official permission form made no mention of money or any other form of assistance from the military.
With her army career now in the rear-view mirror, MacEachern says she is getting promises of support from paramedics, firefighters and police as she wends her way toward a planned final stop at the War Museum in Ottawa on Oct. 18.
"This is how I hoped it would go," she said, "because now I'm no longer in the military I wanted to involve more people — anyone who has any contact with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
"I was military, and Military Minds is obviously about the military, but PTSD affects many others," she added. "It doesn't stand for Post Traumatic Afghanistan Disorder."
MacEachern is also getting moral support for all stages of her walk from Canadian Army Veteran Motor Cycle Units — a national network of bikers.
Military Minds members are driving her support RV that was donated for the walk by a Gananoque RV dealer.
By the end of her walk last year, MacEachern said her army pack was crammed with mementoes gathered from passersby.
"Along the way, people I met were beyond heartfelt," she said. "They would give me a hat or a pin or a name tag or something from their son or daughter to carry with me. I never knew what to do with them but this year what I have done is fix Velcro on the front of my bag and as I get them I am putting them right on the outside of my ruck.
"To me that's a huge part of this," she added, "because it becomes a walking memorial to their struggle."
Although she's heard nothing official from her base, MacEachern says former colleagues have sent messages of support and just 40 kilometres into her walk, a guy stopped and handed her an envelope with the word 'CHIMO' on the outside — the nickname and cheer for Canadian Military Engineers.
Inside was a cheque for $1,000.
More information at MacEachern's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Thelongwayhomemm.
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.