British officer plans 480-mile trek on foot
September 16, 2011
HEIDELBERG, Germany - For many, one of the perks after a long, successful military career is hosting a big celebratory party for colleagues, friends and loved ones.
While that sounded like fun, Col. Robert Jordan, the British army's liaison officer with U.S. Army in Europe, headquartered on Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, wanted to do something bigger.
On Nov. 3, he plans to start a walk from Heidelberg to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey, England, some 480 miles apart.
Sandhurst is where British army officers train to lead Soldiers and where Jordan started his career 35 years ago.
The idea was born when Jordan was chatting with a colleague who remarked he'd just completed a winery tour through France. Jordan relayed the tale to his wife, Sue, whose response was, "Well, at least he is doing something."
Her comment may have been the push the former infantryman needed, and the idea for a walk to benefit a few favorite charities was born.
"I had thought that I might have a retirement party, but on reflection I felt that I wanted to do something different and something that would have a more long-lasting effect. I also wanted to leave the army with one more achievement under my belt, rather than a few more beers in my belly," Jordan said.
Jordan aims to raise 15,000 Great Britain pounds (about $24,000) for his favorite charities.
Within 10 days of his website going live, Jordan raised about half his goal.
"My aim is to raise funds for three charities (that) help those who have not, unlike me, been able to serve a full career unscathed," Jordan said.
Averaging between 18 and 20 miles per day over the course of a month, the journey will take him through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and finally the United Kingdom. Even during the hour-long ferry ride from Dunkirk, France, to Dover, England, Jordan doesn't plan to rest; he'll walk back and forth on the boat until it docks. And when he arrives in Sandhurst, it will be almost exactly 35 years to the date his career began.
Jordan has been searching for various communities and local mayors along the way who will support him with free or low-cost overnight lodging.
As of this writing, Jordan has 12 nights covered so far, and he has also appealed to several corporations for sponsorship or donations for essential items like a GPS and a cell phone.
In April, the British Army agreed to allow Jordan to go forward with his plans, and Exercise Home Stretch became an official event.
"Giving it an official exercise name meant it was OK for me to train using army time and resources and also be covered as on duty in case something happens," Jordan explained.
Few people other than the fictional Forrest Gump could walk that distance consecutively without training, and with the exercise official now, Jordan can set off as much as his schedule allows, currently over 10 miles every other day.
In the next few weeks, Jordan hopes to hit the 14-mile mark.
"Fourteen miles is just another hour each day, and my plan is to cover up to 16 (before November). That's probably as much as I will get up to so I'll be able to do 18 a day," Jordan said.
As only one of two British liaisons here -- Jordan is assisted by a sergeant -- finding the time to get some miles in can be difficult, particularly between scheduling movers and packers and preparing to close out four years in Heidelberg.
"We are a one-stop shop for anything to do with the British army. My job really is to get the right folks talking to one another. It's hard to get the time to take off three hours a day so I'm trying to do every other day at the moment. There are a few balls in the air," Jordan said.
Jordan is due to retire in March.
For information on his charity walk to England or to contribute, visit www.uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RobertHomeStretch.