SWEETWATER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- Staff Sargent John Mumby set out from Waskom, Texas on the Louisiana border on October 3. His destination is Fort Bliss in El Paso, His mode of transport? Walking.
“I have to walk a lot further everyday because the cities are spreading out. Once I get past Pacos, I’m really gonna have to stretch my legs,” Mumby said.
On his back, Mumby carries a large backpack with all his essentials, and over his shoulder, a Desert storm flag to raise awareness for “Gulf War Illness,” a health condition long relegated to mystery, though lately gaining notoriety thanks to increased research efforts.
“For the longest time the VA shrugged it off as part of PTSD,” Mumby explained.
Though for him, the symptoms are all too real.
“Sometimes I lose my speech, my mouth won’t engage. Sometimes I can’t pick up my car keys my hands wont work. I get debilitating muscle cramps,” Mumby said.
He was able to meet up with Dr. Robert Haley at UT Southwest on the first leg of his trek. Haley is one of the leading doctors in this field of research working to get formal recognition of Gulf War Illness, which is believed to be caused by chemicals used in bombs during the conflicts.
When Mumby walked into Sweetwater, he was greeted with a red carpet welcome and a homemade breakfast, courtesy of the City Chamber of Commerce and Fire Department.
“It’s not like we had it planned, it’s just. We asked him and he said yes. And we’re more than willing to accommodate him,” expressed Sweetwater Fireman and Veteran Eric Medina.
Over eggs and coffee, Mumby met with city officials and anyone else who stopped by. He filled them in on his travels and the causes he continues to champion.
“I teamed up with an organization called Walk for Vets.org, mainly bringing awareness to veteran suicide prevention and veteran homelessness,” Mumby explained.
Another cause that hits far too close to home for the Gulf War vet.
“My (wedding) anniversary is April 11th. On April 10th, 2020, I went into Brookshire’s. Bought some flowers, bought a card, bought some muffins. I went back out to my pickup and I’m sitting there and in our little town of Winnsboro, everybody knows me. I was sitting there staring out the window. I took out my own weapon and put it to my head. Somebody banged on my window to stop me,” Mumby recalled.
It’s these kinds of dark times and lack of awareness he hopes to help other veterans through. Though he said that kind of help is not always possible without a public ready and willing to pitch in. Likewise, the vet needs to be willing to reach out.
“My darkness came from being that person who everybody depended on, to now having to depend on people. That’s the biggest issue I think our veterans are facing when they get back,” Mumby inferred.
This message resonated in Kenneth Kendricks, Sweetwater Vietnam Veteran, when he saw Mumby on his way out of Abilene and said it was an inspiring sight.
“His walk is to help all veterans… It made me feel good to see this young man doing that. Because that’s the kind of support that we need,” Kendricks said.
And though the road has been daunting, Mumby said the support and reassurance from cities like Sweetwater, and Vets like Kendricks, are enough to push him on to his next stop.
“A few days ago in Weatherford, I was really having doubts about making my destination. But day after day, one day at a time. Y’know, I wake up and go no, I can do this,” Mumby expressed.
Mumby’s next stop will be in Colorado City on November 3, then off to Big spring. He said he will be attending a week long event in Midland following that. His journey can be followed on the Walk For Vets Facebook page and funds can be donated to the Colonel Bill Davis Research Fund to help towards finding treatment for Gulf War Illness.