Marine makes 900 mile trek for vets facing mental health challenges

After two months and more than 900 miles traveled by foot, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Travis Snyder is home this week.

This year’s hike was Snyder’s longest — from Holland along US 31, the entire length of M-22, and then a full lap around Lake Michigan — to raise awareness around the epidemic of veteran suicide. 

Snyder has made four treks totaling 2,240 miles and raised more than $15,000 for Mission 22, a nonprofit supporting veterans with mental health challenges.

“I’ve seen everything the past two months except snow,” jokes Snyder who walked 15 to 20 miles most days.

Making connections

It’s a pace that allows him to spend time with host families, speak to veterans' organizations, complete homework for his coursework at Grand Valley State University (he is on track to graduate next year), and talk with families who have been affected by the loss of a loved one to suicide.

He was invited to participate in the annual Memorial Day ceremony in Menominee where he represented the USMC and delivered a message of hope for the end of suicide among veterans.

Though suicide is a concern for all U.S. residents, rates are markedly higher among the veteran population. In 2019, the most recent year for data from the Veterans Administration, the suicide rate among U.S. civilians was 16.8 per 100,000 while for veterans, it was 31.6 per 100,000.

Snyder spent six years in the Marines. He spent seven months on deployment in Afghanistan.

In 2019, on the eve of his first long distance hike, Snyder decided to dedicate his efforts to a Marine brother who had been lost to suicide earlier that year.

“The first year I was prepared to campout every night,” Snyder says. “But because of social media and word of mouth, I have yet to camp out once (in four years).”

To Snyder, that “speaks volumes about the hearts of so many good people”

'Emotional weight'

“When I took off the first year,” he says, “I wasn’t fully ready for the conversations I would encounter or the emotional weight.”

Along his path, Snyder has encountered many families who have lost loved ones to suicide.

On Saturday, he walked the final miles of his 2022 journey, ending in his hometown of Holland.

Several years ago, Snyder went through his own season of depression. Though he was able to navigate his way out, he knew he never wanted to feel like that again.

To those who might be struggling currently, he has one simple thing to say: “It’s kind of basic and simple but still not told enough,” Snyder says. “You are valued. You’re worthy of just as much joy as anyone else in this world. But no one can help us if we don’t open up.”

Read more articles by Andrea Goodell.