KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Ken Brock is going back to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. But this time’s he’s driving – and he’s not coming back.
The Army veteran, who invigorated a community and became walking billboard for Wounded Warrior Project, wants to be close to his son, daughter and six grandchildren. The years of despondent isolation brought on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is being replaced with a new sense of importance.
It’s time to open his arms and feel loved again.
“I lost a couple of decades with my son and daughter and a lifetime with my grandchildren,” Brock said. “I’ve thought about this since I walked there a year ago. It’s time to be with my family.”
Brock will leave at the end of the month. But he will leave behind a legacy of courage and determination that grew in magnitude to be recognized on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives when he left AMVETS Post 86 in Keystone Heights on a 2,654-mile journey to Idaho. Step-by-step, he wanted to bring awareness to WWP’s programs for PTSD. But it turned into a six-month sojourn of self-discovery.
It’s a story that inspired Kristal Leon, a wife of a U.S. Navy sailor, to participate in the WWP’s Carry Forward virtual 5K along the Chicago lakefront. Leon learned of Brock’s walk nearly 18 months ago on Facebook, and she decided to extend Brock’s message.
“I followed his daughter-in-law on Facebook and that’s how I saw the story,” she said from her home in Northbrook, Illinois. “I checked in all the time. I’m the wife of a soldier and I do a blog here in the Chicago area. I think about Ken all the time and I decided to use my platform to share his story.”
Leon will participate in her own walk on Sept. 5. Before then, she will post story links about Brock on her blog.
“People don’t realize what these [soldiers] go through,” she said. “I’m doing this walk for Ken and [his service dog] Pam.”
Brock said knowing his story still reverberates with fellow WWP veterans and families makes his walk seem even more worthwhile.
“I hope others will use my story to get the help that’s available,” he said. “I can’t tell you what it’s like to hear someone you’ve never met like Kristal wants to share my story.”
Brock survived two weekends of deadly tornados in Alabama, weeks of devastating floods in the heartland, thunderstorms, snow and the threats of wild bears and wolves in the Great Plains to join his family four days ahead of town’s Fourth of July parade.
His son, Arek, is a deputy with the Kootenai Sheriff’s Office, was first to embrace his father at the Coeur d’Alene city line.
It took years – and a cross-country walk – for Brock to find the strength to be around family again. After waiting months to find an apartment, he decided to make the move.
“This is the last piece of the family thing in my life,” Brock said. “I’ll never be whole again. A lot of stuff happened in the military. But this is a good step.”
Brock said he learned to face his fears during the walk. Instead of sitting at home and sheltering himself from the challenges of real-world issues, he taught himself to focus on creating solutions.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdowns throughout the world, Brock again found himself in seclusion. He vowed never to let the walls of doubt and anxiety cave on him again.
“I love Keystone, but there’s not a lot of things to do here, especially when everything is shut down,” Brock said. “Sometimes I’d take a walk to Palatka [54 miles roundtrip] just to keep busy. I wasn’t going to get back to sitting around and watching television all day again. That’s when I decided I need to be with my family again.”
His days soon will be filled with family dinners, watching grandchildren at the playground and, of course, long walks with Pam on the many wilderness trails.
“It will be hard to leave my mom and my brother behind, but I’ve got a lot of time to make up,” Brock said.