HARPERS FERRY, WV — (WDVM) Thousands of men and women will leave the military this year and return to civilian life, but the road to retirement will be rocky for some of them. It was for an Army Lieutenant Colonel from Woodbridge, Virginia.
Lieutenant Doug Sweet began his Army career as an armor officer during the Invasion of Iraq with the Fourth Infantry Division in 2003. His cavalry squadron of Bradley Fighting Vehicles clashed sporadically with Iraqi forces in the northern part of the country as it headed toward Baghdad to relieve Marines.
“But it was nothing like you and the Marines you experienced coming up the middle of Iraq from the oil fields just inside the border from Kuwait,” said Sweet.
“This wasn’t a walk in the park, was it”, I asked. “No. Absolutely not. Anyone who attempts to hike the Appalachain Trail needs to be physically and mentally fit,” said Sweet, “Because it is a tortuous trek that will test your metal.”
Harpers Ferry, located along the Potomac River, is the halfway point along the 2,193 mile long trail that winds its way up the east coast from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Sweet is going to retire from the U.S. Army in September but wanted to become one of a few hundred hikers who complete the tortuous trek every year.
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, headquartered in Harpers Ferry, says only one in five hikers is able to go the distance. The rest drop out for various reasons; injuries being the most common reason.
When I interviewed Sweet, he had just completed Day-55 of the journey and faced another 55 days on the trail. I could see he was very tired, but determined to finish the course.
“This could be the last mile of my military career,” said Sweet as he talked about the past 20 years in uniform, and he wanted to go out on a high note.
Captain Sweet went back to Iraq a second time as commander of a maintenance company during the “surge” in 2006.
His job was to keep track of convoys running, despite roads lined with IEDs, improvised explosive devices that took a toll on manpower and machines.
“Yeah, lots of IEDs out there. We had soldiers on the road everyday, hauling critical supplies front-line troops needed to engage the enemy,” said Sweet, but like his first tour in Iraq, contact was limited to an occasional skirmish. But he told me, “It was dangerous work.”
A few years later, Sweet was back in a combat zone, working with Seventh Special Forces in Afghanistan, but “unfortunately, it was a desk job,” lamented Sweet who would have preferred a combat command.
For the past five years, LtCol Sweet worked at Army Cyber Command. His wife could see his career coming to an end this year, “and she constantly reminded me that I’m going to have to get a real job,” laughed Sweet who did get a job after our interview at Harpers Ferry.
Sweet will begin life as a civilian after he officially retires in September.
If he can convince his wife to let him return to the Appalachian Trail before reporting for duty at his new job, Sweet would like to finish the trek that he started back on February 26th in Georgia.