Article Credit: nola.com
Two tours in Afghanistan took a toll on Joshua Ploetz.
The former Marine was injured in a roadside bomb. He lost friends in combat, and later, to suicide.
When the Winona, Minnesota, resident returned from the war eight years ago, he was coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, the fallout from a minor stroke and other injuries. Adapting to civilian life proved difficult. Relationships failed, employment was hard to come by and, Ploetz said, he had an overwhelming feeling of being “lost.”
From Joshua’s Blog: “On November 26th, 2010, I was about a month and a half into my first deployment to Afghanistan in support of a mission to clear routes of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s). That afternoon, two of our Marines, Sgt. Gabriel Martinez and Cpl. Justin Gaertner, each stepped on pressure-plate activated IED’s which resulted in both of them suffering the loss of their legs. Since their incident both have made very speedy recoveries and have received the support they deserve from several generous charities. When I asked these Marines which organization helped each of them the most with their situation, they both responded with “The Semper Fi Fund.” This is why I chose to support this specific organization for my journey down the Mississippi River.”
In the summer of 2014, Ploetz, 30, found direction — and became an inspiration — paddling a canoe the length of the Mississippi River. He launched on May 19 in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river begins as a narrow creek lined with tall trees and bald eagle nests.
The trip to the Gulf of Mexico would take him 71 days, 49 of them spent paddling and the remainder resting. Ploetz said he needed every inch of the river’s more than 2,300 miles to paddle away the demons of war, or at least calm them a bit.
“It slows life down so you can appreciate things in life,” he said. “All you have to do is think about things that you may not want to think about, things that just appear or things that you should think about, and you kind of work things out in your head.”