Will Mosebach pulls up a chair in the living room of Jacqui Savattere’s Cranston home. His girlfriend, Kristen Creech, puts her bare feet up on the coach to watch TV. They look right at home, but just one day earlier, they had never met Savattere and had never before been to Cranston.
Savattere welcomed these strangers into her home because of a bond they share that she can’t quite describe. As Mosebach and Creech walk more than 2,500 miles from Maine to Florida, Savattere’s is one of many military families they will stay with.
“This is where I get my strength from,” Savattere says. “It’s very rare that you find people like them.”
The couple is walking on behalf of Active Heroes, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance and job placement to veterans, and aims to strengthen military families.
For Mosebach, that mission is personal. The 32-year-old from Pittsburgh served more than four years in the Army, working as an airborne medic in the 173rd Infantry. He left the Army in 2005, but remains concerned with the welfare of veterans.
“Being a veteran, veterans and military families and their welfare is something that’s near and dear to me,” he said.
Creech shares his passion, both for her friends that have served and as a means to do charitable work on a major scale. The 25-year-old already says she wants to stay involved in Active Heroes after the walk is complete.
The journey, following the East Coast Greenway, will take the couple seven months to complete, stopping in cities along the way to raise awareness and funds for Active Heroes. They left Maine on Sept. 8, walking 15 to 20 miles each day, and have raised $5,000 so far. They hope to collect $20,000 before they finish in Florida.
The ultimate goal is to set up Active Heroes endowments in all 50 states. Mosebach believes more needs to be done to counsel veterans when they get out of the war, and to help families with the adjustment.
“There needs to be more emphasis on helping families understand what soldiers are going through,” he said.
Keeping a family together in the wake of war is an impossible task, Savattere says. All three of her sons have been deeply affected by what they have seen in the military. One son, 27-year-old Shea, is back home, but the other two are still in active duty. Twenty-five-year-old Xzavier is in the 173rd Infantry in Washington State and 21-year-old Sal is a Marine currently serving in Guam as a bomb builder.
“It’s a hard life for a mother; it’s a hard life for anybody,” Savattere said. “I’m proud of every one of them, but as a mom, it’s the worst thing you can go through.”
Savattere was not particularly surprised that her children enlisted. Her father served in Korea and she had two uncles in the military. Xzavier’s father served in the Air Force as well.
It didn’t make the news any easier to process, especially when Shea and Xzavier were deployed to Iraq.
It still isn’t easy for Savattere, who feels helpless that her sons have seen such atrocities. She has a hard time sleeping, thinking about her boys and the many other young people sacrificing their lives for American freedom. She sends care packages and toiletries, Christmas cards and cookies overseas.
She stays up most nights, talking to soldiers and their families through online support groups and forums. She worries about suicide and depression, and the alcohol and drug abuse she sees among many veterans.
For many young soldiers, it is an isolating and lonely time.
“I had huge trouble talking to anybody,” Mosebach recalled of his exit from the Army. “Even if there was help, I didn’t want it.”
Savattere is hopeful that volunteers like Mosebach and Creech will bring attention to the plight of military families, improving the delivery of services to them and to their sons and daughters serving overseas.
“They need better counseling. They should be forced into counseling,” she said. “They never took the war out of [my son’s] head.”
Xzavier has been close to death on several occasions, having been shot, thrown out of a Humvee and narrowly avoiding an IED explosion. Those experiences haunt Savattere and her son.
“He’s mostly gone. You look into his eyes and there’s nothing left,” she said.
It’s a look that Mosebach knows too well.
“I call it the thousand-mile stare. It’s because we’ve seen hell,” he said.
Lining her hallway and surrounding her bed are photographs of her soldier sons. Savattere looks at childhood photos and says those faces have since hardened. She doesn’t recognize those men today.
“Not one of my kids came out of this OK. Can they ever be normal again?”
Savattere’s story is what motivates Mosebach and Creech to keep walking.
“We started to raise awareness and to raise money, but we realized along the route that we’re really touching peoples’ lives,” Creech said.
The couple stayed with Savattere on Saturday and Sunday night before getting back on the road. Even if it was just for a while, Savattere was grateful for the company and to talk to someone who understands her pain.
“Unless you live the military, what you see on TV is nothing like what you live with. You will never grasp what I feel and what I fear,” she said. “That’s your baby walking out the door. The world doesn’t see that.”
Mosebach agrees, but hopes his efforts can change that.
“I would love to see a more realistic expression of what it’s like over there,” he said. “We’ve lost our patriotism over the years. We need to become stronger as a nation.”
He and Creech are getting stronger, and strengthening their mission along every mile. They have months and miles ahead, but Creech says the friends they make along the way and the stories shared by military families make it worthwhile.
“It’s even better than I thought it would be,” she said. “These are just amazing people, and it’s a cause that needs recognition and support. I’m so glad to be doing it.”
To donate to the cause, visit www.activeheroes.org/hike or email Mike@ActiveHeroes.org. Follow Mosebach and Creech on Facebook at Facebook.com/HikeforHeroes.org.