When Lt. Col Rick Burtt takes his first steps onto the Colorado Trail July 5 it will be the beginning of a 24-day, 486-mile journey in which every step will help to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Burtt, a 40-year-old with many years of service in the Army and Colorado Army National Guard, had long desired to do something big, and he couldn’t think of a better foundation to tip his hat to in the process.
As a company commander in Iraq in 2003, Burtt watched firsthand as soldiers in his company suffered from everything from minor injuries to lost limbs to death. And for those who did return home, many have suffered since with post-traumatic stress disorder, including to an extent, Burtt.
“I had some weird dreams, social anxiety for a little bit when I first got home,” he said. “There were a lot of guys who had a real hard time adjusting to life, that were really impacted by PTSD. It always stays in the back of your mind.”
And while issues with PTSD have surfaced more in recent years, Burtt points out that what today’s warriors face is no different from what veterans of past wars endured.
“I think we are just more attuned to those issues today,” he said. “If anything, I’m grateful that all the focus now on the mental health and occupational health of today’s soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines has shined a little bit of light on previous generations of veterans and the struggles that they have gone through.”
The Wounded Warrior Project works to help wounded service members of all wars acclimate in modern society, provides aid and assistance, and offers a variety of unique programs and services.
“It’s important that people remember after all the homecomings and the parades and the fanfare is done, we have a lot of (service members) who are struggling in a lot of ways that most people don’t understand,” Burtt said. “Where there isn’t a governmental program in place, the good folks at the Wounded Warriors Project take these guys to the finish line in getting their life back in order.”
Burtt, who has been training for his hike primarily at Jefferson County Open Space sites and Castlewood Canyon State Park, plans to hike an average of 20.25 miles a day. He will spend much of his journey alone, but will be joined by his neighbor, Air Force Maj. Robert Carreon, as well as a couple other friends at different spots along the way. He will also have a seven-person resupply team that will meet him at trailheads and road crossings to bring him clean clothes, cooking fuel and food.
Burtt’s only luxurious stops include a night at Mount Princeton Hot Springs and a night at a friend’s condo in Frisco, likely the only time he will have a bed to sleep on.
To learn more about Burtt’s journey or donate to the Wounded Warrior Project in his name, please visit www.facebook.com/HealingThroughHiking or search for his fundraiser at www.woundedwarriorproject.org.