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Walk It Out: Image


The first through-hiker of the Appalachian Trail was a WWII veteran, Earl Shafer, who described himself as "walking off the war" after losing his close friend, Walter Winemiller, during the American assault of Iwo Jima. 

The isolation Shafer experienced is echoed in Earl's effort to make organized noise to influence veteran suicide. Many veterans today still experience a period of isolation prior to taking their own life. Isolation, toxic relationships, and financial stress are believed to be the leading integers affecting veteran suicide. Earl believes that if we can breach veteran isolation, the community can better assist veterans to identify financial stress and toxic relationships. Veterans would suffer less and be more enabled to ask for help if more Americans 1) were aware of veterans who are facing complex grief and 2) strived to assure more veterans felt connected.

Like most transitioning veterans, Earl has had to search for ways to connect the competencies gained in uniform to the demand of the civilian marketplace. However, unlike the typical veteran, Earl’s story is uniquely connected to the mission of the Toughest Kids Initiative, Inc. (TKI):

“To make a difference in kids’ lives; particularly the toughest kids in the world…those with ailments, physical challenges, foster kids and the growing number of kids who have lost a military parent.”

As a former ward of the state, Eagle Scout, Army Ranger Infantry Officer (and current attorney) Earl formed Project SON to serve the immediate beneficiaries of TKI by demonstrating the grit and resilience of our Toughest Kids. He aims to serve again as a combat enabler to his comrades--our nation’s children--who are in desperate need of our support.

This cause will enable veteran suicide prevention and awareness directly and indirectly by promoting mental health awareness and creating unique experiences for disadvantaged populations. 

Generated resources will be donated to TKI to be contributed to either the SON Veteran Support Trust or operational expenses. The SON Veterans Support Trust intends to distribute resources to beneficiaries and provide a perpetual impact with ultimate efficacy after completion of the mission. 

“I have unlimited potential due to being invested into by my community,” says Earl. 

He credits his community for his becoming the person he is today and believes that he can meet his self-imposed American duty by seizing an opportunity to affect veteran suicide. Earl is being supported during this mission by a team of community leaders who volunteered scarce time and energy to make sure SON is successful. With no hesitation, each teammate pledged their support when Earl reached out for help. 

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“A primary goal of SON is to ensure veterans feel comfortable asking their teammates for help.”

Earl "Chico" Porter III

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He explains, “A primary goal of SON is to ensure veterans feel comfortable asking their teammates for help.”

The inspiring efforts of two lawyers and a community rooted in Decatur, Georgia, enabled Earl to enter the private United Methodist Children’s Home (now known as Wellroots) located in Avondale, Georgia, graduate from Decatur High School, earn the Boy Scout rank of Eagle Scout through Troop 134 located at First Baptist Church of Decatur, and attend the University of North Georgia on an ROTC Scholarship. Earl graduated college summa cum laude and was commissioned as an Army Infantry officer and the nation’s No.1 cadet (out of 4417) by indirectly aspiring to pay homage to those who invested in his journey. 

Earl was fortunately provided with opportunities by his community and, over time, has been able to learn the skills necessary to form a team to generate opportunity for others now in need. Earl believes that opportunity is often abundant where responsibility has been abandoned. 

Although Earl’s upbringing is also unique due to the close mentors and friends that he has lost along the way due to suicide. Many people who Earl looked up to or led, both in and out of uniform, found themselves suffering in silence to the brink of self-destruction. 

Earl believes, “I am uniquely positioned to leverage non-typical partnerships to mass effects on a common cause.”

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