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Hiking away PTSD

Veteran-run program urges servicemembers with combat stresses to try a new path

David and Fee Konkler (left), hiking for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, September 2016. Courtesy photo

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Like many of our brave veterans, David Konkler, a retired staff sergeant and gunner on an M1A1 tank, found himself struggling with what he had seen and experienced during his two tours in Iraq. The 12- and 15-month deployments during 2005 and 2010 had left him with the invisible wounds that plague many of our active-duty and veteran servicemembers.

"I went through a whole bunch of counseling and did all these steps: go to counseling, take medication.  The thing is that it didn't fix the problems, medication only masked the problems, and at counseling I could talk about it, but it only helped so much," Konkler explained.

David knew that there had to be other options: "To me there is another aspect that's out there that needs to be looked at.  Not only do you have to talk to someone but you need to find something that will help you have a positive outlook on life and makes you happy. For me, that was hiking and going hiking with my wife, who helped me start this and has been a huge supporter."

When David lost a good friend and mentor, Staff Sgt. C.J. Martin, to suicide, he felt the need to expand his hikes to include other veterans. "He was an amazing NCO, just one of the coolest people that you could talk to. Someone that I really looked up to.  It was one that hit me hard because there were no warning signs for what happened.  Everyone says there are warning signs and that you'll notice it and you'll see it happening, but there was nothing," Konkler explained.

David and his wife Fee began planning group hikes under the name Washington State Hikes for Vets, in 2015, a few years after David retired from the military.  Since then, the program has been included into the Nine Line Veterans Services nonprofit organization, which officially began in July 2016.  "Nine line" is the term used to request an emergency medevac for soldiers in a combat situation.

In September 2016, during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the Konklers held a group hike in memory of Staff Sgt. Martin.  Hikers carried a banner with Martin's picture, signed by each participant, on the nine-mile return hike.  Konkler hopes to raise the funds to personally deliver the banner to Martin's family in the near future and to share with them their gratitude for their son's service.

When asked how people can get involved with Nine Line Hikes, Konkler urges veterans and community members to simply show up: "The best way to participate is coming out and joining on the hikes.  Just being a part of it.  Spreading the word and letting people know that there are groups out there for them and want to help and be there for them."

For veterans dealing with PTSD, Konkler shares advice learned through his own experience: "The first step is to reach out.  Doing it on your own and not reaching out ... I spent seven years behind a bottle, hiding everything, and I was destroying my life.  If it wasn't for the fact of watching what I was doing to my kids, I probably wouldn't be here right now.  Reaching out and getting away from self-medicating and locking yourself away because you hurt and you don't want anyone else to know.  Just because you're going through this doesn't mean you're broken.  It doesn't mean your life is over."

Nine Line Hikes and Nine Line Veteran Services is available to all military servicemembers, active, Reserve or veteran, honorably or dishonorably discharged. The group will soon be expanding their events to include a variety of outdoor adventures, including a snowboarding trip being planned for January.  To learn more, email Nine Line Hikes at or contact them on Facebook at

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