On Friday afternoon, Justin Kuhel, a former Marine corporal who served in two Iraq war operations, made his way through Anson County as part of his march from Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., to Camp Pendleton near San Diego, Calif.
Kuhel is marching the more than 2,700 miles over the next few months to raise money for the Headstrong Project and Help Our Military Heroes, two charities that help veterans. “During Justin’s cross-country journey, he will be a walking banner to attract attention and funding to support our veterans,” reads a flyer that Kuhel hands out along the way.
He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006, and served in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom before he was honorably discharged in 2010. He is currently a nationally registered paramedic and is working and attending school on the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
Kuhel, who lives in Clintonville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, said he was inspired by a documentary film he saw in 2012 that highlighted the plight of wounded Marines. “It made me want to do something to help,” he said, so in March 2012, he walked more than 400 miles, from Columbus to Arlington National Cemetery. Through that walk, he raised $13,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project.
He said that with his March Across America project, he hopes to “replicate that success on a larger scale.” He started his trek across the U.S. on May 23, and plans to reach Camp Pendleton sometime in October. “It should take about four and a half months,” he said. “It depends on how many rest days I take.”
Kuhel travels with a large American flag tucked into his backback, gaining lots of horn honks along the way. He’s also accepting donations through his website, marchacrossamerica.org, with the ultimate goal of raising $100,000.
“We passed $10,000 last night,” he said on Friday during a brief stop in Wadesboro. “The goal is $100,000, but hopefully we get past that.”
When Kuhel’s hometown Rotary Club heard about his plans to walk across America, it started its own match program, called Match Across America, which encourages Rotary Clubs along Kuhel’s route to match its donation of $1,000. “They have been a huge help,” he said.
Kuhel plans to make rest stops along the way, and is followed by a car that is currently being driven by his mother, to make sure he is OK and takes plenty of breaks. He’s working with VFWs along the way as well, to plan his lodging.
To donate or for more information, visit marchacrossamerica.org, follow him on Twitter at @MarchAcrossUSA, or visit his Facebook page, March Across America.