By Katie Pavlich
Former U.S. Army Spc. Troy Yocum is marching to his own beat, drumming while hiking through 30 states and 37 major cities around the country in an effort to raise money and awareness for military veterans and their families.
Born and raised in Louisville, Yocum attended an all-boys Catholic high school and, after graduation, he started shoveling coal and working at various energy plants. “If I go to college, I’m probably going to party a whole lot and drop out, so maybe I shouldn’t go right away,” he said to himself at the time.
After working a number of various jobs to make ends meet, Yocum decided to join the U.S. Army. On Aug. 21, 2001, just two weeks before 9/11, he joined the Army National Guard. Having just signed up for military service, his first thought after 9/11was, “I’m going to war.” However, in 2001 Yocum’s unit was put on standby and was not deployed.
In 2008, he was recalled with the 100th Battalionout of American Samoa to go to Iraq. When he returned from his tour in August 2009, a friend and fellow veteran who served two Middle East tours—one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan—needed some financial help after losing his job.
Yocum began contacting charities to try to get assistance for his friend but was told the likelihood of receiving financial aid was very low since they had thousands of veterans waiting in line for help. He also researched and found that the suicide rate among soldiers was rising and that one of the causes for the increase was financial stress.
“I immediately stepped back and said, ‘I need to find a way to help these people,” he says. With Terry Fox as his inspiration, a man who ran across Canada with one leg, Yocum was determined to make his efforts successful and decided he was going to hike across America.
His first step was a meeting with the vice president of Louisville Slugger to ask for support. The company has been sending the U.S. military baseball equipment since World War I. “You make a pink bat for breast cancer, why don’t you make a bat for military people?” Yocum asked.
From there, the company agreed to make a genuine Louisville Slugger bat: solid black with silver encoding reading, “Honoring Military Families.” Yocum is taking one of the custom-made bats along with him on his route as a petition for mayors and governors to sign in favor of enacting an official National Day of the Deployed before presenting it to the White House on May 11, 2011.
“We don’t have a day to honor those who are fighting for this country as of today,” he said. “If we’re going to be successful helping people, we need something like this.”
Yocum knew going into this project that unless he had a way to get people to pay attention to what he was trying to accomplish, it would go nowhere, and he came up with a creative way to turn heads. “Maybe if I snap a drum to my backpack and play it, people will start to pay attention,” he thought. “I see myself as a town crier who is alerting people about what is going on.”
Yocum also gained attention from other corporations willing to contribute. Yamaha is providing Yocum with drums, so that no matter how many times it rains during his journey, he’ll always have a solid, working instrument. Merrell has stepped in to provide comfortable shoes, and Green Beans Coffee Company donated $12,000 to advertise the project on a support vehicle that follows Yocum, purchased with money donated by Acme Truck Line Inc.
“I almost cried when these people helped me, because there is no way I could have done this by myself,” he says. “All of these companies are really helping me out.”
The hike itself will take 16 months with an end goal of raising $5 million for struggling veterans. Yocum started walking from Louisville on April 17, 2010, heading north to Chicago, and will continue down to St. Louis, west to San Antonio and all the way to California before heading back East to Washington, D.C., up to New York City, north to New England, then back to finish in his hometown.
His dog, Emmie, will also be by his side for each of the 50 million steps of the journey. “I’m not walking alone, and struggling military families should never walk alone either,” he says. After the hike is over, Yocum has goals of becoming employed with a charity to continue his work to help military families.
“My heart is in it to help the people.”
Anyone wishing to support Yocum’s efforts should visit DrumHike.com.
You can also get daily updates on his trek across America via Twitter
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