Travis Snyder Takes Steps to Highlight Veterans’ Mental Health

When Travis Snyder returned from his tour in Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine, he was both proud and relieved that everyone in his unit was brought home in one piece. It took time, as well as a pivotal and heartbreaking experience, to realize that maybe he and his unit actually didn’t come back all put together. This was the beginning of a new journey for Snyder, one that took an unexpected path to a new purpose.

A Tour of Duty

When Snyder joined the Marines at 24, he was looking to make an impact, serve his country, and find both discipline and direction in his life. When his unit was deployed in October of 2017, it worked in Security Forces with a mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan army against the Taliban. “We saw it as a blessing,” said Snyder. “You go through this training in order to serve. Serve our country. Serve a community and its people. It was a chance to do good.” Eight months later, Snyder and his entire unit returned home—back to normal. However, it didn’t take long for Snyder to realize things weren’t exactly normal. He still wanted and needed purpose, but instead found depression and anxiety attacks. Snyder pushed through them, unsure when or if they would stop. In August of 2019, one year after his tour, Snyder received a devastating phone call. A good friend from his unit, Geoff Hughes, had committed suicide.

Walking for Warriors

The loss of Geoff was an unthinkable blow. Snyder had a desire for direction when he joined the Marines. Now he was unsure what to do next. With feelings of being untethered and his grief and shock over Geoff, Snyder knew he needed to do something to change his course and make an impact like he had in the service. “I knew I had to do something. Something big,” said Snyder. “There are too many of my brothers and sisters in the service who feel like I did when I got home—aimless, disconnected.” As a way to commemorate his friend and to shake up his own life, Snyder took a walk. A long walk. Around Lake Michigan.

A Mission of Miles

Snyder’s “walk” turned into an810-mile journey around the whole of Lake Michigan. He’d started a Facebook page for some friends and family to keep track of his trek. Snyder knew he wanted to make this trip about veterans and mental health, so he arranged stops along the way to connect with different organizations and bring awareness to their causes. Snyder had packed his camping gear, expecting to spend most nights outdoors along the way. He never had a chance to unpack it. “The first night, a friend from the Marines called me and told me his parents lived along the way and were happy to let me sleep in their RV for the evening,” said Snyder. “Forty-two straight nights, people offered me a place to sleep. You look at social media thinking there’s so much that is bad, but if you really look around you, there are so many good people in the world.” And speaking of social media, the five to 10 people he expected to follow him on Facebook turned into 14,000,with another 3,000 on Instagram. The word had gotten out about Snyder’s wild walk. People were tuning in to hear and learn more about veterans’ issues, particularly mental health.

Next Steps

Snyder put on his hiking shoes each year through 2023, including walking along the West Michigan lakeshore from New Buffalo to Mackinaw City, across the state, and around Lake Michigan again—totaling 2,590 miles and raising over $15,000 dollars for veteran organizations. “That first mile back in 2019 was to commemorate a friend,” said Snyder. “I may have taken those steps on my own, but what’s been accomplished has been through a community of caring people. It would not have been possible without them.” A reminder that no one should walk alone in this life. And with the help of people like Travis Snyder, hopefully fewer of us will.