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Patriots don ruck sacks for 62-mile charity hike along area trail

JERSEY SHORE — Three Army soldiers took off on a non-stop hike of the 62-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail Saturday, wearing hefty ruck sacks — just as they did when they were serving in equally arduous but more dangerous conditions in Iraq.

Army Spc. Wade Morehart, of South Williamsport, spent his 30th birthday joined by two friends and fellow servicemen, Army Sgts. Trevor Cherry, 25, of Charlotte, North Carolina, and P.J. Lubbert, 24, of Freeland, Michigan.

They were raising money for K9s for Warriors, an organization that rescues, trains and then provides service dogs to veterans who may be disabled, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic experiences. Their fundraiser, “Patriots for Paws,” pushed them to their limits for others in need.

“We hope to be in Wellsboro by 7:30 p.m. tomorrow,” Morehart said.

A ruck march is a military version of hiking. Each wore a 45-pound ruck sack, military grade hiking packs, loaded with essentials for survival, such as fluids, food and extra clothes.

They started at the trail head’s southern terminus shortly before 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

A support team consisting of Michael Sawko, of Montoursville; Chad DiPersio, of South Williamsport, and Chris Cleary, of Pittsburgh, went ahead in two separate vehicles providing assistance along the route at various checkpoints.

The support team had extra food, water, flashlights, clothes and socks and medical supplies.

Their first stop would be the Waterville Tavern, about 12 miles to the north. The Pine Creek runs almost parallel to the trail, providing sights and sounds of nature and allowing people to either hike or bike the laid out trail.

Their fundraiser was meant to kick in some extra cash for veterans who could use a service dog but can’t afford one.

“The cost to train and then place a service dog is about $27,000, Morehart said. “Our goal is to raise $13,700,” he said. “We have raised about half of that.”

Asking for help and assistance of fellow brothers and sisters in arms, Morehart, a sniper with the 82nd Airborne, who was stationed in Mosul, Iraq, as recently as 2017, said the veterans need to know they are not forgotten and their country still supports them.

“We who served took an oath to defend our country, but we also vowed to ourselves to always protect our brothers and sisters in arms,” he said.

Morehart, who is planning to join the local National Guard, is a student studying heavy equipment operation at Pennsylvania College of Technology. He said he wanted to do something different for his birthday.

“We wanted to get together and push ourselves for a good cause,” he said.

It was not his first time on the scenic trail. Morehart is an angler who often goes to Slate Run to fly fish and to ride a bicycle on the trail’s many locations.

Having the experience as a sniper gave him an appreciation for the pressure that is felt by those who serve in combat and for the nation in the military.

Today, the Department of Defense indicates an estimated 22 veterans take their lives daily.

In most cases, medication and talk therapy have proven to be insufficient in helping manage trauma symptoms.

Veterans who get a service dog are on an average of 10-14 prescription medications. After training with their service dog, 92 percent reduce or eliminate medication use, Morehart said.

Morehart said, once the hike is over, the fundraising continues.

“This opportunity will help your company reach out and support more veterans in a positive way,” he said. “Any contribution made is greatly appreciated not just by our group, but by all veterans and all who support them.”

Morehart said the fundraiser should work by getting a letter out to service organizations, military groups and others.

Additional information is available at the website at www.k9sforwarriors.org.

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