Marine Veteran Walks From Minnesota to Texas

Daniel Crawford
Daniel Crawford | Image by Daniel Crawford/Facebook

A Marine veteran is making his way down from Minnesota to Texas on foot to raise awareness for a nonprofit.

Daniel Crawford, 53, is undergoing what he calls 1,000 Miles of Gratitude, a venture looking to shine a light on the nonprofit 23rd Veteran and raise funds to expand its work. Crawford’s journey will see him walking all the way from Austin, Minnesota, to Marble Falls, Texas. As of March 27, he had left Keller and entered Watauga.

23rd Veteran provides veterans support through a 14-week mental health program. The nonprofit helped Crawford piece his life back together after he struggled with alcoholism.

Crawford’s Story

Crawford enlisted in the Army Reserves four days after his 17th birthday. He went to Fort Benning for basic training before pursuing active duty and technology training, according to the Minnesota American Legion (MAL).

He switched his enlistment to the Marines his senior year and graduated in 1987.

Entering the Marines that August, he was eventually stationed at Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina, where he spent five years working on helicopters. During that time, he was deployed twice with the USS Iwo Jima amphibious assault ship and once on the USS Guam during the First Gulf War.

Crawford married Anne Burch from Ham Lake and was later promoted to sergeant and sent to Marines Helicopter Squadron One. It was during this time he was able to shake hands with then-President Bill Clinton.

When Crawford left the Marines in 1995, he turned to alcohol after struggling to sort out who exactly he was as a civilian. Moreover, he had been exposed to alcoholism — not to mention neglect and abuse — as a child. His mother, an alcoholic, had married another alcoholic after her divorce from Crawford’s father.

“I’m not blaming the military for troubles in my life,” Crawford shared with the MAL. “Joining was me escaping real life by going into the military life.”

In time, Crawford landed a job in Missouri with Mastercard as a systems administrator. He also became a father, with Anne giving birth to their son Joshua in 1997.

Just three months after Joshua’s birth, Crawford pursued several avenues, trying to get sober. He tried detox, chemical abuse treatment, and antidepressants — but nothing worked. Afraid he’d hurt Anne and Joshua, he left them.

While traveling around the United States, hoping to find himself, he came across Metro Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered drug and alcohol recovery program in Minneapolis. Finally, something began to shift for him — even if it wasn’t sobriety at first.

“They are responsible, in my brain, for keeping me spiritually alive during that period,” he told the MAL. “It would have been easy for me to eat a bullet, but with that spiritual part, it kept the hope going.”

Nevertheless, Crawford continued to drink through the recovery program, and his marriage imploded. But a second chance at love found him at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport while he was traveling to California for work. He connected with a fellow traveler — Amanda Burkhart — and they ended up marrying in 2001.

Over the next few years, Amanda would give birth to Abbie, Amelia, and Patrick, and Crawford would continue to drink, albeit staying sober while caring for them or driving them around.

By 2019, things began to come to a head. Crawford’s mother had died from alcoholism, he was struggling to hold down a job, and he had yet to find a true purpose. It was then that he finally began connecting with the veterans community and learned about 23rd Veteran’s 14-week peer-to-peer wellness program.

While not a substance abuse program, the initiative aims at “reconditioning” veterans — beginning in Crawford’s case with a week-long retreat on a 30-foot boat off the coast of Florida. Thanks to the relationships he built and the huge strides he made in his knowledge of self, Crawford will celebrate 729 days sober on April 8. This is when he aims to arrive in the Austin area and view the Great American Solar Eclipse.

The Nonprofit That Changed Crawford’s Life

Crawford currently serves 23rd Veteran as a reconditioning program coordinator, leading classes for the very same program that put him on the path to sobriety and that he now aims to support through his fundraising effort.

23rd Veteran was founded by Mike Waldron, a Marine veteran who served during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. He later earned a business degree and began managing U.S. courthouses and federal buildings across the Midwest, according to the organization’s website.

Despite Waldon’s success, he was plagued by frequent nightmares, severe anxiety, and panic attacks. To remedy this, he made it his goal to reassociate negative memories and fear from trauma with new positive memories.

Since 2015, he has led a team that strives to make a difference in helping others find their hope and happiness through positive trigger reassociation and training in a lifestyle that maintains a healthy level of baseline brain chemicals.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families has recognized Waldron’s group as the nation’s “Best Venture Impacting Veterans.”

The 14-week reconditioning program — known as 23V Recon — that Crawford followed is a significant part of the group’s work.

“The theory is if you can be conditioned, your brain can be conditioned,” Crawford explained in an interview with The Dallas Express.

The program is similar to a boot camp, where veterans start with a week out in the wilderness and focus on team building.

“We take them out into places that usually caused them fears, so when they’re in that trusted environment, we can take them to those places with loud noises, and we find that they’re comfortable now because they have that developed team,” Crawford said.

The veterans also work out three times a week together. Working out releases a chemical called dopamine, which uplifts moods.

“While we’re sweating and our hearts are beating, we sit in a circle and do gratitudes. And we follow a playbook that’s designed to tap into specific brain chemistry and emotions. So when we work out, we’re very vulnerable, we’re going to be very open and be very honest,” Crawford told The Dallas Express.

Throughout this program, everyone becomes very close-knit, Crawford asserted.

“And through that tightness, through that closeness, it’s just like being in the military. We can see that they share what their problems are. They communicate what they’re going through,” Crawford added.

Crawford is working towards seeing more educational classes from 23rd Veteran reach across different communities.

“The best thing that a veteran can do would be to get involved with other veterans. There are so many organizations in Texas and nationwide. All the veterans have to do is to look from them,” Crawford told The Dallas Express.

“And for those with a veteran in their family, the key is to listen to them. You don’t have to solve their problems, but just be there and listen to them. Make a phone call and connect with them. Just be there to say, ‘I’m right here.'”

The Journey Across 1,000 Miles

Crawford started his walk on February 3 with the primary aim of “[spreading] 23rd Veteran outside of Minnesota.”

“I felt a desire and need to try to grow this organization and get more exposure for it throughout the country. The cheapest and most fun way to do it was to take a walk,” he shared with The Dallas Express.

While the walk was a way to help fundraise for 23rd Veteran, it also became an outreach tool.

Crawford kicks off his day with a destination already in mind. He drives to a spot and then walks about 20 miles.

“I stop wherever the spirit leads me,” Crawford told The Dallas Express.

Often, this led to several unplanned interactions with other veterans.

Once Crawford makes it to his destination, he gets a ride back to his vehicle and then drives to a local campground or stays with a friend in the area.

Crawford described meeting veterans along the way as “beautiful.”

“It reinforces why I’m walking. It tells me that there are plenty of veterans out there to service. It just tells me that God’s in charge of this,” he said.

“My soul doesn’t sit well knowing that there’s so many veterans that are out there in pain,” he added. “When we’ve got somebody that’s hurting and depending on the system to help them out, giving him a house and stuff, that does not help us solve the problem.”

“They need genuine feelings and genuine love. They need to see happiness in order to learn it again. [23rd Veteran] means everything to me. It means enough for me to walk 1,000 miles. It’s my calling. I can’t stop doing this. I can’t stop helping other people,” he said.

To follow along Crawford’s walk, join the Facebook group. Crawford has raised over $33,000 of his $75,000 goal.

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