It began on March 22, a trek across the entirety of the United States. All the way from his starting point of DuPont, Washington, Jimmy Novak now finds himself within the Lake of the Ozarks. Novak didn’t travel by car, plane or bike. His journey has been entirely on foot.

It began on March 22, a trek across the entirety of the United States. All the way from his starting point of DuPont, Washington, Jimmy Novak now finds himself within the Lake of the Ozarks. Novak didn’t travel by car, plane or bike. His journey has been entirely on foot.

This trip isn’t just for the scenery. Novak recently retired after over a decade in the military and wanted to take time to reflect on the struggles he faced in his career. He says he faced multiple depressive and suicidal episodes after his deployment, which were always difficult to open up about with the stigma surrounding it. During his employment, Novak says he was told to push away any weakness. Now that he’s retired, he decided it was time to change.

Novak served in three separate deployments over his career. The first was a non-combat deployment in Kosovo from 2000-2001. His second involved his first combat experience in operation Iraqi freedom from 2004-05. During this time, facing the realities of war, Novak encountered heavy depression and even planned rehearsals of his own suicide. Luckily, Novak says he was never deep enough to go through with it. Finally, Novak returned to Iraq again from 2007-08.

After returning to the United States, he became an instructor at Fort Leonard Wood until 2012. This was followed up in the next year by being transferred to Milwaukee to become a military recruiter, which would last until 2016. He says he felt like he was not emotionally connecting with people during recruitment. He says he began drinking himself to death with the memories of his wartime. His final job with the military was transitioning to a chemical advisor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. After this, he decided to step down and get help for his continuing depression.

“I did it all exactly wrong,” Novak said. “I kept pushing my feelings down when I should have confronted them from the start.”

With his wife in full support of him and making enough income to support their household in Washington, Novak decided a time for reflection had finally come. In March, Novak left his house on foot and started his trek to Orlando. He says the idea for the journey was inspired both by the holy men of the bible and the inspirations of other soldiers that had taken a similar path before him.

During his travels, Novak hopes to raise awareness of other soldiers who might be facing struggles. He wants to meet strangers along the way and have conversations about the struggles he has personally faced. He wants to help people understand the true mental health issue associated with serving in the military.

His project finish is on August 22. He plans to walk an average of 22 miles a day. All of these 22s are not coincidental, however. Novak says that, in his own research, 22 veterans commit suicide every day from PTSD and general depression associated with the war. He says that post traumatic stress is a real problem for veterans, but neither have to be permanent.

“People need to reach out to veterans and talk to them with compassion,” Novak said. “Have an actual conversation, not just a thank you for your service. It can really make a difference.”

Novak is happy to chat to anyone willing to come up and say hi while in the lake area. His website for the walk can be found at http://jlnovak.com with link to donate to his cause. Spirit airlines donated airfare for family from Seattle to meet him in Orlando at the end of the trip and fare back home. He says he has also been donated gear from Hibbett and Academy Sports.