Army veteran Kyle McCullough, 28, a Gorge resident, is literally walking his talk about supporting U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.
By the end of the first week in May, McCullough, a former Army Special Forces operative, will set off on a 198-mile journey from Wasco County to Seaside on the Oregon Coast.
Last week he began visiting businesses in The Dalles and Hood River and asking them to support his venture by donating to the Gorge Heroes Club, a local troop support group.
“I don’t care if someone gives me $5 or $10,000, whatever they have works,” he said. “I know a lot of business owners in both of these communities so I don’t think that I’ll have any problem getting help from them.”
All proceeds raised by McCullough will be donated to the Heroes Club, which is currently sending care packages to his brother, USMC 1st Lt. Kristoffer “Turf” McCullough, 26, also a Gorge resident who is currently serving in Afghanistan.
“I wanted to do a walk and I was thinking about what organization I could do that for. I know the Gorge Heroes Club can use the funding and I want people to be more aware of what’s going on over there so this was the right choice,” he said.
McCullough was swayed toward doing something for troop support after his brother asked in a recent telephone conversation from the combat zone, “Do people really remember that we are over here?”
“I think about him every day and I know that is a huge morale booster to get packages that show the folks back home still care,” said Kyle. “It means a lot when people say thanks and sending boxes is a tangible way to do that.”
McCullough said there is a lot of ribbing that goes on between brothers when one is in the Army and the other a Marine. However, he said, all jesting aside, he is very proud of Turf and the responsibility he carries as the company commander of a Marine unit in Helmand Province.
“He might be a Marine, which makes him a little misguided, but I respect what he’s doing,” he said.
Donations made to the Heroes Club in support of McCullough’s walk are tax-deductible and can be left at the Hood River News, 419 State St., The Dalles Chronicle, 315 Federal St., or the Y102 Studio of Haystack Broadcasting, 620 E. Third St. in The Dalles. Contributions can also be deposited in the Heroes Club account at CenterPointe Bank in Hood River, 2500 Cascade Ave., and The Dalles, 1100 W. Sixth St.
McCullough, a former staff sergeant in the unit known as Green Berets because of their distinctive headgear, is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom with more than eight years of military service. He and his fellow soldiers were tasked with missions that often required them to live rough and do without amenities the American people take for granted.
“It was a huge cultural shock when I got home because the world had moved on and I was basically a year behind in everything going on,” he said.
McCullough said America showed strong support for the troops after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and during the build-up to the war in Afghanistan and the months after ground operations began. He said a decade later, many people don’t spare a thought in the course of a busy day for those still in harm’s way.
“Military families are the ones supporting the troops but not the general populace and I think that needs to change,” he said. “We shouldn’t have only people with some connection to the military doing things for our troops; these families are already making a sacrifice.”
His departure date next week is based upon the level of activity at the cherry orchard where he is now working, said McCullough.
He has given himself 10 days to make the journey but intends to do it in seven if nothing unforeseen happens. He has not yet decided whether to walk forest roads over the south side of Mount Hood or follow the Columbia River to Portland and then journey on main arterials.
On Monday, McCullough was leaning toward time in the wilderness and planning to travel light, with a water filtration system for hydration and protein bars, nuts and other high-energy foods.
He views the adventure as a new life challenge and training for a return to military life since he is in the process of re-enlisting.
Although McCullough has the training for many career options in the civilian world, he is returning to Special Forces because being a warrior is the best way for him to give back to the country he loves.
“Being a soldier is not just what I do, it is part of who I am,” he said.
The Gorge Heroes Club plans to post updates about McCullough’s progress on its Facebook page and gorgeheroesclub.blogpost.com. The nonprofit’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.