For a Marine Corps veteran, missions are just part of the job.
Put one foot in front of the other. Do what you set out to do. Finish.
Travis Snyder, president of Grand Valley’s Laker Vets, finished his
job when he walked into his hometown of Holland on June 25, 56 days
after setting out on his latest self-ordered mission to raise
awareness of veteran suicide and mental health.
His Adidas hiking shoes, with 900 miles worn into them, still
provided some spring to his step. His own sense of accomplishment
after walking around Lake Michigan was secondary to the support and
awareness the walk generated and the friends made along the way.
Veteran suicide is an epidemic. In 2019 more than 17 U.S. veterans
died by suicide every day. Snyder knows the pain personally.
A friend he made while training in North Carolina before being
deployed to Afghanistan, Sgt. Geoffrey Hughes, took his own life in
2019, about a year after returning from his deployment.
That loss stoked existential questions for Snyder, who had dealt with
what he called his own “season” of self-doubt and depression before
joining the Marines in 2012 at age 24.
Why? What could have been done to prevent this? Why isn’t more being
done? What can I do to help?
His first walk in 2019, a bit haphazardly organized and announced on
Facebook, would be a mission for Snyder to heal and raise awareness
and funds to help prevent more loss.
This summer Travis Snyder traveled 900 miles, across
four states over 56 days, raising
about $5,000 for Mission 22. The stars indicate his
stops along his journey.
He would walk for Mission 22, a nonprofit organization offering
crisis support services to veterans and their families.
“The first one I kind of was running on faith,” said Snyder, who
enrolled at GVSU in the spring after transferring from Grand Rapids
Community College. “So, there was a lot of uncertainty, but I didn’t
feel too bothered. I guess my plan was just camp out, start out a
(Facebook) page and, if people wanted to follow along, great. If one
person was affected in a positive way through that venture, then, I
would’ve considered it a success or a blessing.”
Snyder talks with the humble authority of a Marine, but even with its
modest start, the 2019 walk resonated with many people — some of whom
would track him down as he approached their town, offering a meal, or
place to rest for the night. Fox News featured him on its national
evening news broadcast as did local news outlets who caught wind of
He raised thousands of dollars on that first hike around the lake —
making friends, listening to fellow veterans and their loved ones tell
stories about loss. The listening was part of the mission.
So was being alone. Snyder was alone for much of that 2019 walk and
the one he completed this summer. (He also finished two shorter
fundraising walks during the pandemic.)
Laker Vets president Travis Snyder is pictured in Kirk Park, in West Olive.
“Being alone brings you a lot of serenity because,” he paused,
looking up, searching for the right words. “You’re alone in your
thoughts for so many hours out of the day. Sometimes you play music,
but for the most part, I’m just trying to listen to what’s going on
“And when you’re alone, especially in Northern Michigan, there is
nothing more peaceful than just being alone in your thoughts and just
having that freedom to just think and be present without distractions.”
The toughest moments were when it rained; oh, and the chafing.
But those things were distractions from the mission. The mission was
to walk until he got around the lake, so he walked. Chilled by rain.
Burned by sun. Chafed by, well, mileage.
That first trip (and the shorter trips that followed) teed up this
year’s walk, where his support network had grown into a close group of
friends he met along the way.
Travis Snyder was often joined by friends along the way who would
spend part of their day hiking alongside him. (Photo at left), In
northern Michigan are, left to right, Art Eisner, Christopher Daily,
Snyder and Lucas Clark. (Photos courtesy of Travis Snyder)
There’s Elizabeth Bradfield, of Traverse City, who has helped Sndyer
find places to stay, brought meals, and even rallied the Oscar Mayer
Wienermobile to come out in support during the 2020 walk.
There is the couple, Nick and Heather, whose wedding he crashed when
he walked through Denmark, Wisconsin, on the day they were getting
married. They had met on the 2019 walk when Nick stopped Snyder after
seeing him walk by the small-town bar where Nick and friends were
watching the Green Bay Packers take on the Minnesota Vikings.
The thousands of dollars raised for Mission 22 and the awareness he
brought to the issue of veterans’ mental health were reasons for the mission.
But supporters made the walk — the mission — more meaningful, more
healing than Snyder could have known when he initially set out.
He’s working to bring that kind of support to his work on campus with
Snyder has worked with Jill Hinton Wolfe, director of GVSU’s Military
and Veterans Resource Center, on initiatives designed to help connect
veterans with mental health resources.
In other words, the mission continues.
“We’re just getting started,” Snyder said. “It’s been a lot of fun to
connect with student veterans here at Grand Valley and to have that
community, too. We’re all going through the same thing as
non-traditional students, we’re all a little bit older than many
people in our classes, but we have a lot of cool events this year and
I’m looking forward to connecting with a lot of the veterans and other
organizations here at school.”