Three former US Army soldiers arrived in Dunsmuir Tuesday, July 21, for a much anticipated meal at the Burger Barn. The trio had two things in common: they were approximately half way through the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and they are hiking to heal their souls from deployments in the Middle East wars.

Three former US Army soldiers arrived in Dunsmuir Tuesday, July 21, for a much anticipated meal at the Burger Barn. The trio had two things in common: they were approximately half way through the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and they are hiking to heal their souls from deployments in the Middle East wars.

The three are part of Warrior Hike, a non-profit “outdoor therapy program that supports veterans transitioning from their military service.” Warrior Hike provides its veterans with all the equipment and supplies needed to complete a thru-hike of a National Scenic Trail and coordinates community support for transportation, lodging and food at towns located along the trail.

The three, Tony Jaramillo, Anne Dios and Eric Sorensen, are as different as their purpose is the same. What they did have in common at the Burger Barn was the need for a feast. Instead of trail food, they consumed with great pleasure huge burgers – veggie style for Dios – with bacon, mushrooms and blue cheese, tater tots and malts.

Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Richard Dinges said the Chamber coordinated with the Warrior Hike program in Washington, DC, to have the hikers stay in Dunsmuir, then coordinated with local organizations and individuals to provide lodging and food for the hikers.

Eric Sorensen is the “old man” of the group. Stocky with a gray beard, he was born in 1958 and served from 1976 to 1992. He was deployed in Operation Desert Storm as an armored crewman and said he has been looking for something to ease his mind for a long time.

“I never found peace from Desert Storm 20 years ago. I needed to be out in nature with other vets, with no TV, stress or drama. If there is drama, you can just walk away,” Sorensen said. “I realized there are still good people in the world. I spent 20 years with the VA and they provided nothing like the trail. I don’t see shrinks or take drugs anymore.”

Sorensen said the PCT is difficult but offers unexpected pleasures.

“Every day on the trail kicks your butt three or four times, but also rewards you as well. There might be Skittle on the trail. You pick it up and eat it. It’s trail magic,” Sorensen said. “Get off the couch and see what America has to offer. You don’t have to walk, just find something.”

Anne Dios was born in 1984, served from 2001 to 2009 and was deployed in Kuwait as an intelligence officer. She is a smiling, dark haired woman and her nose is bright red from sun burn. She says she’s not very good at verbalizing, but her presence on the hike and her healing is story enough.

“Not all my deployment memories were good. I tried other strategies in dealing with deployment. I tried going back to school and then looking for a job,” Dios said. “This program is exceptional. I was very lucky to have been chosen. It put me out of my comfort zone.”

Dios realized that the PCT is not an answer but a means to an end.

“The trail does not just fix you, you have to try. It’s a path and there are no plans,” Dios said. “I have been exceptionally lucky. I have had no injuries. Most of the people on the trail have been very nice.”

She said a highlight of the trip has been visiting various posts and clubs.

“We have visited a dozen posts, VFW, American Legion and Rotary Clubs. People have been so sweet,” Dios said.

Tony Jaramillo was born in 1984, served from 2004 to 2009 and was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat engineer. His arms are tattooed and he sports a long beard. He looks like a biker, and in fact he is.

“I thought I was going to have to sell my motorcycle, but Warrior Hike fully sponsored me,” Jaramillo said.

The PCT costs between $5,000 and $8,000 for the six month journey. In addition to trail supplies, Warrior Hike handles the many logistics involved with doing the PCT such as arranging transportation from trail heads and lodging when in towns for resupply or visiting the posts.

Jaramillo said he struggled with resolving his deployment issues and that the PCT has been healing.

“I had a lot of mental issues from overseas. VA methods, counseling and medication, were ineffective. Being out in nature helps me get back to where I need to be,” Jaramillo said. “I’ve learned I am not in control of things I thought I was. The hike has taught me a lot of things. Life just happens as it happens. I’ve learned to see the bright side. It’s too easy to just sit and suffer.”

Jaramillo said he is doing the PCT for more than just his own issues.

“The VA was not effective for me. There are other ways to help. We need vets to explore other ways of dealing with these problems,” Jaramillo said. “I want to get my story out and show other vets. We must not forget the older group from Vietnam and even Korea. They are still there.”

The last thing these former soldiers have in common is that there is no sense of feeling sorry for themselves. They are on the PCT and looking forward to the future with renewed faith.

With his new found trail wisdom, Sorensen related his highlight of the PCT so far by simply explaining that life is not like that.

“Life is a whole puzzle. You can’t just pull one piece out,” Sorensen said.

Dunsmuir Chamber of Commerce gave “special thanks” to Dunsmuir Rotary for sponsoring the hikers’ lodging at Cave Springs, Louie Dewy and Cedar Lodge, Mike Robinson. The meals were donated by Sandy Raine at Burger Barn for the lunch, David Clarno at Dunsmuir Brewery Works for dinner, and Kate Chadwick at Dogwood Diner for breakfast. “The hikers said that Dunsmuir was their favorite place and they would return to visit and hike other areas in Siskiyou County when they complete the hike in September,” according to Richard Dinges.

For more information on Warrior Hike, visit the website at www.warriorhike.org.