A U.S. Marine Corps veteran of repeated tours over a period of 16 years in Iraq and Afghanistan was en route through the area on a six-day, 140-mile hike last week to draw attention to the toll of post-traumatic stress disorder on the ranks of former military members.
Retired USMC Staff Sgt. Oscar Rauda, 42, started his fund-raising trek with a lunchtime rally on Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Southwest Florida Military Museum & Library in Cape Coral. Headquartered there is the Marine Corps League Paul E. Ison – Detachment 60, of Lee County, Florida. Mr. Rauda, commandant, lives in nearby North Fort Myers and says his intent for this trek was also to raise money for the Injured Warriors Fund of Florida, a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organization administered by the Department of Florida Marine Corps League.
His destination was the Marine Corps League’s Fall Conference, which took place Friday, Oct. 5, at the West Palm Beach Marriott.
He met supporters all along the way, with several stops in Fort Myers including one where he was joined by a group of supporters at a veterans monument. In LaBelle, he checked in at the American Legion Post 130, where the commander along with Judy and Gary Bowler, Chaplain Patty, Peggy Kenny, Miriam Protto and Rebecca Castle were waiting to offer medical supplies to take care of his blistered feet. Mr. Rauda enjoyed a “wonderful dinner” at The Log Cabin BBQ & Seafood on Tuesday evening.
Around noontime last Wednesday, he met others in the area of the Holiday Inn in downtown Clewiston, collecting donations while walking and later enjoying overnight rest in a room that friend Kathy Conley procured for him at the Clewiston Best Western.
About his quest, Mr. Rauda said: “It’s just to raise awareness for PTSD. It’s something that people can’t see and so they don’t realize that their loved ones might be suffering. I know it’s pretty tough ... I’m still dealing with it, so I know it’s a challenge at the beginning trying to admit they have something wrong. The effects are depression and there’s a lot of things that go with PTSD and the symptoms. Every 22 minutes, a service member commits suicide. So we need to just bring awareness to that and let the community know that we need to support our veterans in any way that we can.”
When they were brainstorming about ways to do so, he related, “A bunch of Marines just said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just walk for the cause and walk to West Palm Beach where we’re going to be meeting with the rest of our Marines?’” So that’s what they ended up doing.
He was having other former service members join him at various times during his hike, and a group was to join him Friday morning for the final leg.
Anyone interested was able to “track my safety vehicle and me walking via Life360.com” by texting their cellphone number to him, Mr. Rauda said. (He can be reached at 302-518-4978.)
He joined the military in 1997 and left the active ranks in 2013. “I was infantry the whole time, and I have seen multiple combats in Iraq and Afghanistan.” He went through one serious explosion “and in combat, close-engaged firefights. I’ve lost a lot of friends.”
Originally from Los Angeles, he said: “My training was at Camp Pendleton; that took me all around the world. And when I got injured, they sent me to Delaware and then once I got better, I moved down to Florida.” He’s been in the state about two years.
Search for “Marine Corps League Paul E. Ison-Det. #60 Lee County, Florida” on Facebook to learn more about his mission. Donations may be mailed, payable to MCL PFC Paul E. Ison Det. #60, P.O. Box 100841, Cape Coral, FL 33918.