WSU Student Josh Ploetz

WSU Student Josh Ploetz (Photo Credit: Sean Campbell)

Winona State University student and veteran Joshua Ploetz is raising awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through his “Paddle Off the War” initiative.

Ploetz, 29, is a senior majoring in Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at WSU, and he is traveling in a single-man canoe down the 2,350-mile Mississippi River. He began his mission May 19 in Lake Itasca, will take a break in Winona in early June, and hopes to arrive in Venice, La., on or around Aug. 1.

Ploetz’s story begins much earlier, when he enrolled in the United States Marines after graduating from St. Charles High School in 2002. After serving two deployments in Afghanistan, Ploetz left the Marine Corp, but what he didn’t realize was his war wasn’t over. He found himself struggling with PTSD.

After years of combating this debilitating condition, Ploetz is learning to overcome the daily challenges of PTSD with the help of the Semper Fi Fund‘s Team Semper Fi, which provide assistance and support for wounded, critically-ill and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. As part of Team Semper Fi, he took up biking, then canoeing, and thus “Paddle Off the War” was born.

Ploetz’s “Paddle Off the War” mission is to promote PSTD awareness and raise funds to help support PTSD sufferers and injured veterans. He is also promoting the mission of the Baton, a symbolic representation of pride and support for the men and women of the armed forces, crafted out of the handle of a military stretcher. The program began in Great Britain, and Ploetz is only the second person outside of the United Kingdom to carry this symbol of pride, hope, courage and suffering.

In addition to his own daily struggles, Ploetz’s canoe itself, which bears the names of fallen service members, serves as a constant reminder of the sacrifices of those who serve.

“‘Paddle Off the War’ is an opportunity to share my journey and bring awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder and how we can help fight these struggles together,” said Ploetz.

Join the “Paddle Off the War” group on Facebook to follow Ploetz’s journey. Donations to “Paddle Off the War” are accepted online at: http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/AFF/PaddleoffTheWar/.

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Andrea Northam

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