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UNG Alum Hikes Appalachian Trail and Raises Money To Combat Veteran Suicide

Photo courtesy of UNG News

Earl Porter, a 2009 graduate, completed his lifelong dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail and raised money to combat veteran suicide along the way. 

Why did you want to hike the Appalachian Trail?

Porter: “I’ve wanted to hike the AT since being a little kid… You know, I’ve always kept it in the back of my head on maybe, what if, and this last spring I was going through a turbulent time of life and needed to pause everything and the Appalachian Trail came knocking again. Except this time I wanted to give back and my aspiration was to walk the 2,200 mile trail in memory of the 22 veterans a day who have taken their lives since 2013. So, I asked colleagues and friends for help. I wanted to do more than hike. I wanted to spread the word and awareness and make connections. Over the course of last summer, I was able to build a team and we were accepted as a project under a non-profit called ‘The Toughest Kids Initiative.’ They allowed us to walk under their flag and do a southbound winter hike of the Appalachian Trail.”

Porter has had a close connection to mental health from a young age, which led to his decision to raise money and awareness for veteran suicide.

“I’ve had an affinity with mental health since a young age and left home at an early age… I ended up losing two mentors of mine to suicide and that was before getting into the active duty Army and once I got into active duty Army… it’s always something that I have wanted to contribute to.”

“Our goal was to walk the trail and be an ambassador to the community as a veteran and then also be an ambassador to veterans demonstrating that it’s okay to ask for help.”

During some of the hike, he was accompanied by his Team Sergeant from Afghanistan who was “able to support me anytime I needed him to come out.”

Porter also mentioned the conditions, saying that from Virginia to Georgia, he was faced with a snowy trail caused by winter storm Izzy.

What has been your biggest takeaway from the experience?

“You can only do so much by yourself and it takes a team to accomplish great feats… This is a testament to what a team is capable of doing. The idea was generated in June, and by September, we were launching with social media and a website. It’s amazing what we were able to pull together remotely.”

At a point during the hike, the person he was hiking with was injured and could not continue past November, “I was effectively hiking on my own out there, but I had the support of my team. I never really was alone.”

Porter studied criminal justice while at UNG and was commissioned infantry in the United States Army on active duty. He served seven years on active duty and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan after Ranger school. After his time on active duty, he went to law school and during that time, served in the Georgia National Guard. After completing his time in the Georgia National Guard and graduating law school, he began practicing law for a firm in Atlanta. He is now pursuing a career in real estate.

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UNG Alum Hikes Appalachian Trail and Raises Money To Combat Veteran Suicide