By Mark Heller
GCU News Bureau
Even during a 2,600-mile journey, Larry Hinkle is on a deadline.
The former United States Marine needs to reach Camp Pendleton near San Diego by Nov. 10. And since it’s an hour flight or six-hour drive, it shouldn’t be difficult.
Except Hinkle is walking.
He began from North Carolina in early April and continued through Wednesday’s stop at Grand Canyon University.
The former Marine did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. The plan was to travel the country on a self-discovery mission: “To see our country and see what I was fighting for,” he said.
Walking wasn’t his original plan, but he’s on his 11th pair of shoes and fifth knee surgery. For the purposes of raising money and awareness for fellow veterans, blisters, a bad back, sore hip, and the agony of walking through the South and parts of Texas in the middle of summer is worth the wear. There also was a three-week pause for an injured Achilles tendon and another week lost to a staph infection.
The planned 27-week meander on both interstate freeways and back roads is instead approaching its seventh month.
“I’ll probably be using a walker after this,” he joked while showing a few of his (literal) battle scars.
Energetic, affable and approachable, Hinkle arrived in Phoenix last week. After setting up his truck and trailer in an RV park in Tempe, he has walked around the city. He visited the VA Hospital, where he bought lunch for fellow veterans, and plans to visit Valley firehouses, police departments and meet first responders.
When Hinkle met Chris Landauer, GCU’s regional director of operations for military enrollment, last month in El Paso, Texas, Hinkle agreed to stop by GCU for a campus tour and to meet some military students.
Hinkle’s preconceived notions of GCU and its Veterans Center didn’t stick.
“My eyes have been opened here. I never knew this type of place existed,” he said inside the Veterans Center while visiting with students.
Then he laughed: “I’d have been in so much trouble if this was my college experience.”
He plans to resume his commercial pavement service job when he returns to North Carolina, a long way removed from a $100 weekly per diem he gives himself on this journey. The rest of his funds (gas for the truck, camping costs, military organizations) are raised through donations, including shoes from Brooks and Saucony.
Students who passed in and out of the Veterans Center on Wednesday — and a few who stayed through Hinkle’s visit — harkened to a common phrase heard throughout the day: “Keeping up the good fight.”
”It’s different than what he and most people normally see,” said GCU senior Francisco Quijada, who did a tour in Afghanistan. “We have that environment and community you can’t find anywhere else.”
As the current and former military student populations continues to increase, GCU Veterans Resource Coordinator Hattie Douglas estimated that nearly 300 traditional students on campus have military experience while nearly 500 are commuting to campus. Wednesday, Douglas discovered that she and Hinkle had worked together on a project in Afghanistan back in 2002.
It’s a small world, which is kind of Douglas’ point in speaking about training faculty and offering additional programs and services to military students. And it’s also Hinkle’s point when he shares the resources and programs available to first responders and military personnel.
“We like (the Veterans Center) to be a safe place where students who’ve experienced so much in their lives can go to get help with homework, or relax, and share those incredibly unique relationships and experiences,” Douglas said.
In a few days, Hinkle heads to Tucson, then back up to Casa Grande, west to Dateland and Yuma, then across the California border to San Diego and Camp Pendleton.
He expects to return in 2017 during another planned cross-country excursion of visits and speaking engagements. It won’t be on foot, but he still plans to pay his knowledge and experience forward.
“I’m sore and my body hurts, but I’ve never been happier in life,” he said of his journey. “It’s lit a fuse and I’ve felt great about what I’ve learned, so I want to take that feeling and pass it on through my (military) brothers and sisters.”
Contact Mark Heller at (602) 639-7516 or firstname.lastname@example.org