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A veteran and a service dog take the 9/11 Memorial Trail | News, Sports, Jobs

Army veteran Kevin Wilson (left) and his service dog, Calvin, pose with a Richland Township police officer after a brief detour in their quest to walk the National 9/11 Memorial Trail. Courtesy picture

Army veteran Kevin Wilson is on a journey to become the first person to complete the National 9/11 Memorial Trail – with service dog Calvin in tow.

Arriving in Duncansville on Friday afternoon, the Arizona resident is on the final leg of his trek to the World Trade Center in New York.

His journey began August 24 when he flew to Washington, D.C., from his home in Arizona and was taken to the Pentagon by Warrior Expeditions, an organization that provides veterans with the supplies they need to perform a long outdoor trip.

Warrior Expeditions includes three programs: Warrior Bike, Warrior Paddle and Warrior Hike.

Wilson joined Warrior Hike after his medical discharge from the Army, after six years of service and two tours in Iraq.

Walking 12 to 25 miles a day, Wilson expects to complete the trail by the end of November.

“My wife is pregnant. We are expecting a baby girl and she said I better do it now because I won’t do it later. Wilson said, adding that she was due in December.

As the first to hike the entire trail, Wilson said part of his job is to build good community relationships for those who come after him.

“I was told it would be unheard of and so far it’s been an amazing experience,” said Wilson. “It’s the first time I’ve seen one of the memorials, it’s a very humbling experience.”

He said he camped outside the Shanksville Fire Department and met some of the first responders there that day, as well as family members of Flight 93 victims.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what all these families have had to go through,” he said.

Wilson, who was in high school during 9/11, said it meant a lot to him to experience these things and even created a Facebook page to chronicle his journey. He hopes this will not just raise awareness for the trail, but encourage other veterans to try Warrior Expeditions.

After being medically discharged from the military, Wilson walks the trail with a visual impairment. Although not completely blind, he said he had no peripheral vision and could only see straight ahead.

He said his “eyes are fine” but his occipital nerves die. This is where Calvin comes in.

“He is a determined wounded warrior with an excellent support dog, Calvin, who, even with some visual impairment, makes this journey alone with his dog and walks this entire route,” said Jane Sheffield, executive director of Allegheny Ridge Corp. and a member of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the National 9/11 Memorial Trail. “He does a great job telling stories on Facebook to help others remember 9/11 and keep it alive.”

The community support along the trail has been incredible, Wilson said, with people buying Calvin dog food, putting the pair up in hotels and businesses encouraging them to stop for a meal and refill their Bottles of water.

“His efforts to bring special attention to military veterans transitioning from service are more than commendable,” Explore Altoona executive director Mark Ickes said.

Once in Duncansville, Ickes, Sheffield and Mayor Eric Fritz treated Wilson to a meal at Marzoni’s. Wilson also received a hotel room for the night at the Comfort Inn, Ickes said.

The journey, however, was not smooth. While hiking from Johnstown to Portage, Wilson came across a detour in his assigned route due to construction, according to a post on his Facebook page, Calvin’s Chronicle.

“This detour took me down a road where, as a hiker, I wasn’t supposed to go and for the first time in a long time I saw the flashing red and blue lights,” Wilson wrote.

Police have spoken to Wilson, saying they have received calls for a wellness check from people who saw him walking along the diversion route and possibly endangering what they thought they were a child in a car.

However, it was Calvin, pushed in a covered wagon provided by Warrior Expeditions.

“I thought that was hilarious,” Wilson burst out laughing.

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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