Hero Highlight – Travis Snyder
How far would you go to bring attention to a cause? More to the point – how far would you walk? Travis Synder found that answer as he grieved the death of a fellow veteran. “In April of 2019, my Marine brothers and I lost a comrade that we served in Afghanistan with – to suicide. After that point, I felt it in my heart to bring veterans and suicide to the forefront,” says Travis.
He chose Mission 22 as his supporting organization. Their objective is to provide help, resources, and funding for veterans who face mental health challenges. Travis strapped on a pack and trekked 810 miles around Lake Michigan with this goal as his trail guide. He describes it as “the adventure of a lifetime,” in part due to meeting many supportive people along the way. He finished in 42 days.
Himself no stranger to struggles, Travis recalls a time early on when “I encountered emotional and mental health challenges that hindered me from achieving my objective in graduation from Infantry school. It was my first time truly being tested and pushed beyond what I thought at the time were my boundaries. I learned how to raise my ceiling and overcome what my body and my mind told me I could not do.”
He worked through the initial setbacks, remembering the reasons he joined the Marines: “I wanted to serve a purpose, be an asset to society, and find an opportunity to better myself as a human being.” While serving, Travis enjoyed practicing field tactics and skills. His Infantry Company was “deployed to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in October 2017, and returned April 2018. We served under Task Force Southwest, carrying out the mission to Advise, Assist, and Train the Afghan Army and Police in their efforts against Taliban forces.”
After serving six years (2012-2018), Travis is back home in Michigan, where he works as Education Director for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Holland. He currently attends Grand Rapids Community College and plans to pursue a B.A. in secondary education. When asked what he likes most about his career, he points to working with the kids. He especially enjoys his role in helping students achieve their academic and career planning goals. Travis chose his profession because he wanted to work with an organization that would serve a purpose and give back to his community.
“The hardest part of the transition to civilian life was learning how to find a new purpose. I knew I wanted to finish school and get an education. But I did not know which path to take. I wanted to find a career that was going to give me fulfillment. I have an undying need to serve, for my skills to be utilized and to be needed. When I got home, I felt like I had done an incredible thing, so what do I do next?”
He applies the skills he built in The Marines to his current leadership role. “I have learned how to keep a strong mindset in high-stress situations. Even at work now, I tend to keep mild when a tense situation presents itself. The 14 Marine Leadership Traits are something I carry everywhere and do my best to share with young people, as they learn how to become leaders themselves.”
He offers solid advice for those considering the military:
“I would encourage anyone with a desire to serve to at least ask questions, seek advice from Veterans, and don’t be afraid to take on the challenge. However, if you are going to pursue this path, ensure that you are doing it for the right reasons. Do not enlist as a ‘last resort’ because you do not know what else to do in life. Do not do it because you heard there were benefits involved. Do it because you have the desire. Otherwise, your experience will be less than pleasant and rewarding. Just like any other life path, it is not meant for everyone.”
Motivated by the pandemic’s additional hardships and concerned that veteran mental health will be even more affected by job loss, financial difficulty, and limited resources, Travis will continue walking. In August 2021, he completed a 300-mile hike in a continued effort to send his message to those who struggle, to those who know someone who is struggling, and to those who cannot relate personally but want to make a difference.