As the war in Afghanistan winds down, thousand of our fighting men and women are left fighting a different battle. Their enemy, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
One Marine veteran in Winona has found a unique way to fight his battle.
Joshua Ploetz served two deployments in Afghanistan. The battles he fought there, and the friends he lost there left him suffering from PTSD.
He recently started a more than 2,400 mile journey, canoeing down the entire Mississippi River, to help him heal. What he's learning along the way is that his journey has become bigger than his own battle.
He's calling it Paddle off the War. So far he's made it 700 miles from the headwaters in Northern Minnesota to his home in Winona. But the journey isn't testing his endurance, it's healing his soul.
It's on the river that Ploetz has found a way to cope. "Being on the river you have nothing but 12 hours of sitting in a boat, you can't go anywhere, you can't do anything besides paddle and think," said Ploetz.
With every mile down stream, Ploetz thinks about his time in combat and the friends he lost there. "I'm one of I don't know how many left in my squad, truly and you hold that guilt a little bit," said Ploetz. "You know every day that I live on this earth and my friends that don't, I want to make sure that I represent them too."
Ploetz hoped time on the river would help him.
"The journey was supposed to be myself, just myself," said Ploetz, but with every person he met along the way that gave him food, shelter, a ride to the grocery store, everyone he came in contact with did their part to change his mission.
"We're all connected in one way, shape or form, it doesn't matter what race, color or religion or whatever it may be," said Ploetz. "If you just help that one person it becomes addictive."
Ploetz knows one group that needs that help are the thousands of vets just like him that are battling PTSD and losing. "Twenty-two veterans are killing themselves a day, or they're dying on our home soil and it's not combat, it's drug overdoses it's suicide," said Ploetz. "If I can just change one, and make it 21 one day, it'd make a big difference."
His final destination is the Gulf of Mexico. That leaves 1,800 more miles of reflecting on his past, meeting new people and getting closer to healing. "My face hurts from laughing or smiling so much, I don't remember the last time I laughed and smiled so much, I'm at peace in life right now," said Ploetz.
Ploetz hopes to reach Louisiana in August.