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The Walk of America: Q&A with Kemsley Whittlesea
Veteran Kemsley Whittlesea tells us about participating in The Walk of America
Can you start by telling us a little about yourself – where you're from, and how you got involved in Walking with the Wounded and the upcoming Walk of America?
I'm Kemsley Whittlesea, born in London and grew up in Faversham, Kent. I got involved with Walking with the Wounded and the Walk of America through another charity who had forwarded an email to me with some information and the application form. As my career in the Army has been cut short, I love America, the different ways of life and I've always wanted to live there and walking is about the only active thing I can do now because of my injury, I thought I'd apply. I then started looking into why the walk was happening and what it was for, the people they support and the amazing things they do and I knew it was something I needed to be a part of.
What does being involved with the project mean to you?
Being involved with this project means a lot to me, especially as it is really pushing the mental health side of things. I know friends and colleagues that have either had to seek help because of mental illnesses or those that need the help but do not want to come forward because of the stigma that comes with it. It also means a lot to me on a personal level as I had planned to travel to the States and stay in different areas with American comrades I met on operational tours but unfortunately some of them never made it home so this will be a nice way to remember them and our service together.
How does it feel to be working as part of a US/UK Transatlantic team?
It's awesome to be teaming up with our American counterparts as one team, especially as "the American ways of life" have influenced me from such a young age. Whenever I've been on tour, working with the Americans has always been such a privilege, so to be aiming for the same end goal as one team again is going to be awesome and like Prince Harry said, we work together, so we should heal together.
Walking across a country the size of America is a big challenge, with plenty of different weather patterns and terrains. What are you looking forward to, what are you perhaps nervous about, ahead of such a big walk?
I'm really looking forward to meeting the rest of the US team and making some memories with them while we raise awareness for such an important charity and important topic. I can't wait to see the amazing areas we are going to be walking through and to meet the sponsors that have helped make all this happen and of course, to interact and meet the local supporters. The American people really know how to support their armed forces and their veterans, I think the UK could really do with taking a leaf from their book! Oh and one last thing ... THE FOOD ... I can't wait to try some of the food!
How does the walk compare to the other challenges you've faced in your life?
I can't say that this is going to compare with anything I've done before. I've walked fairly long distances on trails in South Africa, through the Blue Mountains in Australia and along steep uneven surfaces in the cold along The Great Wall of China and of course the heat of Iraq and Afghanistan ... but never this distance for this amount of time.
How are you getting on with those small US/UK cultural - and language - differences within the team?
So far I've only met Adele and had to explain a few things to her when we've all been talking in a group. I think it will be harder for the US guys to understand some of our terms for things than it will be for us to understand theirs .... and I think we are ALL going to struggle with understating Kev and his strong Geordie accent, although I definitely think it will lead to some amusing times!
Have you met Prince Harry? How has he helped the project, and how is he inspiring you as you prepare for the big walk?
When we met Prince Harry at the press launch he was so down to earth and genuinely interested about us as individuals that it put everyone at ease and it makes it even more of a pleasure and a privilege to be representing the charity and his name. I think the obvious thing that he has done for the charity is to give it the platform and the exposure that it needs, and you really can tell that it is something he is truly passionate about.
What's the first thing you'll do when you reach New York?
Breathe a huge sigh of relief! If I'm in New York that means I made it!
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom to help others in times of need?
Talk to someone. Simple. Even if it's not about the problem to begin with, interaction with others is vital and do not shut yourself away, we are social creatures.
What aspect of being involved in the walk are you most proud of?
Being involved with this walk I'm most proud of being able to help other people that may need help, not directly but to be able to raise awareness to them as well as for them. I don't think military personnel or veterans are aware of all the help that is out there for them when they need it, and although a lot of the public started to support the Armed Forces while all the documentaries were on TV about us in Afghanistan and seeing coffin after coffin return back to the UK on the news, now that it is not there for them to see, people have already started to forget. There isn't just physical injuries and death ... there are invisible injuries too, some that will never fully heal, so the more people aware the better.
The Walk of America sets off from California on June 2, with the team set to arrive in New York on September 6th. Find out how to support the Veterans, donate and learn more about Walking with the Wounded at www.wwtw.org.uk/WOA.
Check out our other Q&As with the team below.