Thursday, June 16, 2011
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Iraq war veteran treks across U.S. to assist service members

Thomas Trujillo founded a group to aid deployed soldiers and their families as well as disabled veterans.

Thomas Trujillo, founder of One Soldiers Dream, is walking across America from Santa Monica, Calif., to Washington, D.C. He arrived Wednesday near the Elks Lodge on Persinger Road in southwest Roanoke.

JEANNA DUERSCHERL The Roanoke Times

Thomas Trujillo, founder of One Soldiers Dream, is walking across America from Santa Monica, Calif., to Washington, D.C. He arrived Wednesday near the Elks Lodge on Persinger Road in southwest Roanoke.

Every undertaking has to start somewhere, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Thomas Trujillo is launching an effort to support his fellow servicemen and -women with an almost 3,000-mile trek across the United States.

Trujillo said he is walking across America to get the word out about One Soldiers Dream, the organization he founded last year to aid deployed soldiers and their families.

Trujillo's trip, which began in California and will end in Washington, D.C., brought him to the Roanoke Valley on Wednesday. Trujillo left Christiansburg at 3 a.m. Wednesday and arrived in Roanoke about 11 a.m.

With more than 2,500 miles behind him, and fewer than 300 to go, Trujillo said this is the toughest part of his trip.

"My body is just drained. Physically, mentally, everything," he said.

Trujillo said he served six years in the U.S. Air Force and eight years in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He served two consecutive tours of duty in Iraq, where he worked at the Iraq-Kuwait border and about 15 miles north of Baghdad, he said. Trujillo's unit was responsible for military police, convoy escort and force protection among other things, he said.

But in September, Trujillo was diagnosed with nerve damage in his left thigh, and he is now unable to deploy or drill in the Naval Reserve, he said. Trujillo said he suffers between five and 20 pain attacks each day, which last about 15 seconds. He also said that the condition causes his teeth to chatter to the point where he sometimes needs to lock his jaws to sleep.

The September diagnosis left him at a crossroads, he said.

"I can sit at home taking pain pills and feeling sorry for myself. ... Or I can help my fellow soldiers and their families," he said.

Trujillo chose the latter.

In October, he founded One Soliders Dream, a nonprofit organization that provides aid for deployed soldiers and their families as well as disabled veterans. He said that the organization had been a three-year dream of his.

One Soldiers Dream operates on 10 percent of the money it takes in, Trujillo said. He said that the remaining 90 percent is split into three equal portions used for helping deployed troops, their families and disabled veterans.

Trujillo said that the organization will provide funding for round-trip tickets for deployed soldiers who need to fly home for family emergencies. Currently, soldiers must pay for their own flights for emergency leave, and short-notice flights from the Middle East can cost more than $3,000, he said.

The One Soldiers Dream website says the organization offers emergency auto and home repair and financial assistance for families of deployed soldiers. The website also says the organization offers a shuttle service to and from medical appointments for veterans. Trujillo said his organization also will provide temporary housing for homeless veterans.

But Trujillo said his fellow soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors are not aware of his new organization, so earlier this year he embarked on a walk across the country to help raise awareness.

On Feb. 1, Trujillo began his trek in Santa Monica, Calif. He carried with him a 60-pound backpack with essentials such as a tent, winter gear and a shovel, but he left alone, with no chase vehicle, he said.

Trujillo had to upgrade to a three-wheeled push cart, he said, because sometimes he needed to travel up to three days between towns in the Southwest, and needed to carry more food.

Trujillo said that the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks has helped him by providing him food, water and lodging along his route.

Trujillo said that he tries to cover between 28 and 40 miles each day, depending on conditions. Until about a month ago, he walked from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, but Trujillo said that he now walks from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. to avoid the hottest hours of the day.

Trujillo said that he has received about $20,000 in donations from people he has met on his trip, but that this is just the beginning.

Trujillo has much bigger plans for One Soldiers Dream. He said he hopes to build a facility for homeless veterans in every major city in the U.S., although he said that this could take decades to complete.

Once he finishes his trip, Trujillo said he plans to return to his home in Bloomfield, Colo., to manage the day-to-day operations of One Soldiers Dream. He said he hopes to pursue corporate donations and government grants upon his return.

Trujillo said he will rest today before continuing his journey Friday.

As he moves into the final leg of his trip, Trujillo said his body "wants to just be done with this," but he is determined to finish the trip for his fellow soldiers.

"I started this run as a soldier, and I will finish it as a soldier," Trujillo said.

More information can be found on the "One Soldiers Dream" Facebook page and at www.onesoldiersdream.org.

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