ITHACA, NY – R. Dusty Dawson, a recently a retired 29-year veteran of the United States Army, walked at least 100 miles in each of 30 states before he found himself here in Tompkins County.

In October, Dawson, 47, embarked from Freeland, Washington on a two-year walking tour of the country. He’s calling it “Freedom Walk U.S.A.,” a way to continue his service to the country while making a transition from solider to civilian life.

Dawson intends to walk at least 100 miles in every single U.S. state, including Alaska and Hawaii. Having been all around the states during his years in the service, he said he never got a chance to really experience all the country has to offer. So, before he retired in September, the plan for his long journey was already in place.

As he treks from state to state, Dawson is doing more than just seeing the sights and visiting historic sites. He’s also raising awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project and The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, volunteering where he can and, here in Tompkins, connecting with family.

The Wounded Warrior Project, as Dawson explains, is a program designed to help soldiers from any war who have been wounded “mentally, physically or spiritually” to better their lives. The program provides support through events and community programs, as well as things like helping injured veterans renovate their homes to adapt to a disability.

Dawson himself is no stranger to war wounds. During his 25-years as an active duty soldier, he deployed eight times, including to Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to an injury to his elbow and shoulder sustained during a jump from a Blackhawk helicopter, he says he’s also dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Earlier in years, I learned how to grow with it. I don’t let it affect my life. I try to control it the whole time, and this walk is allowing me the transition to do that,” Dawson said.

A map of Dawson’s original planned route. (Image courtesy of Freedom Walk USA Facebook page.)
A map of Dawson’s original planned route. (Image courtesy of Freedom Walk USA Facebook page.)

Family connections

Dawson came to New York with family, past and present, in mind. His son, who is a disabled veteran, flew in to New York City to join him for this leg of the walk. Dawson says his father was stationed at the Seneca Army Depot in the 70s, and the Dawson and Genung family surnames to which he is related are centered around the region.

“Today we were in Caroline looking our ancestor Benjamin Genung, who was a revolutionary war soldier. We found his site there at the Old Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery,” Dawson said on Friday. Dawson and his son also sought out the Old Genung farm house, built by Benjamin Genung and his brother Moses in 1800.

Dawson and his son connected with living family as well, meeting with some family from the Dawson side for breakfast on Friday and planning to link up with some from the Genung side the day after, before moving on to Geneva and then Niagara Falls.

After finishing up in New York, Dawson will head back to Connecticut, where he already walked 20 miles, before moving on to Pennsylvania. In August, he’ll be in Alaska for a week.

“I’m trying to get some of these extreme northern states out of the way before winter comes,” he said.

Dawson says his primary goal is awareness, not seeking donations. However, those who wish to are welcome to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project or The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Old Genung farm house. (Photo courtesy Freedom Walk USA Facebook page.)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.