Soldier plans 1,800-mile walk to honor friends killed in combat, and those suffering from trauma and grief in silence

Greg C Washington was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the country he loves. Soon, the Founder of Guards Down will walk 1,800 miles in to honor his friends who died in combat and other soldiers who are suffering from post-traumatic stress and complicated grief. 

Washington, a New Orleans resident, will depart from Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and – over the next 65 days – walk nearly 1,800 miles to West Point, New York.

The mission, he said, will honor his two great friends and fellow 2005 West Point graduates Emily Perez and Scottie Pace. Perez was the highest-ranking African-American female Cadet in West Point’s history. Pace was a combat pilot and the Academy named a ceremony after him following his death.

Washington served seven years overseas, including two combat deployments, and suffers from PTSD.

“A person dies twice: once in physical form and again the last time their name is spoken.  I want to make sure that my friends live forever,” said Washington, a Fayetteville, North Carolina native who played linebacker and led the Army Football team. “A lot of times, organizations and people focus on those who have died in battle, but they don’t focus on soldiers who return home and have to overcome their battles after they are away. 

“This walk will be a call to action for other veterans to think about their mental health and an invitation for others, veterans and civilians, to walk with me during various stopping points.”

Washington will begin on April 30 in Mound Bayou, which was founded as an independent town by former black slaves in the late 1800s. Washington’s father is a Mound Bayou native. Washington will walk through Alabama, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and, finally, New York on the way to the Academy, where he first met Emily and Scottie. Along the way, Washington plans speaking engagements to that promote suicide prevention and seeking help. Stops include Atlanta, Philadelphia, DC, and other cities. He hopes to arrive by September.

Washington’s PTSD stems from several armed combat experiences in Afghanistan. In one incident, a grenade exploded within feet, in another, he barely outran a car carrying a vehicle-borne explosive device. His vehicle eventually crashed, leaving Washington with concussions so severe he was honorably discharged from the Army.

“A lot of people suffer in silence when it comes to trauma and grief,” Washington said. “They are ashamed of being judged at home and at work. I am creating a safe space where people can learn to overcome the challenges of PTSD and grief.”

Washington said he has studied various cultures and how they overcome trauma and grief, and will be incorporating that knowledge into his presentations and discussions throughout the journey.

“During this journey, we will have a community of mental health advocates and access to best practices, effective treatments, and counseling resources ,” he said.

Washington has always been passionate about entrepreneurship. He founded the non-profit, The House of Man, whose main program is We Are Iron – a platform to help people combat the effects of PTSD and extensive grief such as isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts. 

Washington is excited to begin the walk and engage supporters along the way. He hopes to help countless others who can relate to his story and his mission. “I love my family and my country to the point that I’ve been willing to give my all,” Washington said. “I have sacrificed my youth, my health – everything. I believe in the Constitution and what it stands for, and I want others to have liberties and freedoms to have a happy life and their own pursuit of happiness in whatever passion they follow.”