Ron Zaleski’s story is one of personal transformation, resilience, and tireless dedication to advocating for veteran mental health. Born on November 11, 1950, in Southampton, NY, Ron would go on to serve in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam era. His decision to walk barefoot would become the driving force behind his mission to create awareness about PTSD and prevent veteran suicide. In this article, we will explore Ron’s journey from Marine to barefoot advocate and founder of The Long Walk Home.

A Life Forever Changed

At the age of 19, Ron Zaleski joined the United States Marine Corps, serving from 1970 to 1972. After returning home from the military, he was devastated to learn that two members of his squadron had been killed in combat, and three others injured. Overwhelmed with a mix of anger, guilt, and shame, Ron vowed to stop wearing shoes in 1972 as a memorial to his fallen brothers and to protest against the horrors of war. To this day, Ron still walks barefoot.

From Business Owner to Barefoot Advocate

For years, Ron owned a scuba shop and a gym, but the lingering anger and guilt from his military service never left him. In 2006, he made a life-changing decision by selling his businesses and founding The Long Walk Home. That same year, he embarked on a barefoot walk across the Appalachian Trail. Covering 2,200 miles of woods and wildlife, Ron’s journey taught him self-forgiveness, empathy, and a sense of purpose beyond himself.

Connecting with Others on the Trail

During his walk along the Appalachian Trail, Ron encountered many people who were curious about his story. Among them were fellow veterans and individuals who had veterans in their families, all of whom related to Ron’s experiences. They all shared one thing in common: awe at Ron’s perseverance in walking the trail barefoot. Through these encounters, Ron discovered that he wasn’t the only veteran who felt lost, aimless, and isolated.

A New Mission: Raising Awareness for PTSD

While Ron’s journey along the Appalachian Trail was initially an effort to find personal peace, it evolved into a mission to raise awareness for veterans experiencing PTSD. In 2010, he embarked on an even more ambitious barefoot walk from Concord, MA, to Santa Monica, CA. Over the course of 3,400 miles, Ron carried a sign that read “18 Vets a Day Commit Suicide!” and a petition calling for mandatory counseling for military personnel.

Taking the Petition to Washington, D.C.

In 2011, Ron brought his petition, which had accumulated over 20,000 signatures, to Washington, D.C. He spoke to politicians and pleaded his case on behalf of veterans. Although his calls for reform were mostly met with indifference, Ron refused to back down.

The Long Walk Home: Building a Legacy

For over a decade, Ron has worked tirelessly to build The Long Walk Home from the ground up. Now residing in Venice, FL, he continues to develop programs, events, and services for veterans and their families at both local and national levels. His unwavering commitment to raising awareness and preventing veteran suicide has made The Long Walk Home what it is today.

Conclusion

Ron Zaleski’s inspiring journey from Marine to barefoot advocate for veteran mental health serves as a testament to the power of personal transformation and dedication to a cause. Through his barefoot walks and founding of The Long Walk Home, Ron has made a lasting impact on countless lives, shining a light on the critical issue of PTSD and veteran suicide. His story of resilience and selflessness will inspire future generations to advocate for the mental health and well-being of our veterans.

As Ron’s journey continues, he remains a beacon of hope and an example of the strength that can be found in vulnerability and determination. By sharing his story and walking barefoot thousands of miles, he has brought attention to an issue that too often goes unnoticed. With The Long Walk Home, Ron Zaleski has created a legacy that will positively impact the lives of countless veterans and their families for years to come.

It is through the tireless efforts of people like Ron that we can create a more compassionate and understanding world for our veterans. By providing support, education, and resources, we can help to reduce the tragic number of veteran suicides and improve the overall mental health of those who have served our country.

As Ron Zaleski’s journey demonstrates, one person’s dedication and passion can make a significant difference in the lives of others. His unwavering commitment to the cause of veteran mental health serves as a reminder that we all have the potential to create positive change, one step at a time.