By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Day three was the hardest, said Granger Smith, finally sitting down after walking 100 miles spanning five days.
For the second year in a row, the Texas country musician and his band walked from Austin to Fort Hood in Army-style combat boots to show support for the troops and raise awareness of the sacrifices made by service members and their families.
He arrived at Fort Hood on Thursday, followed by more than 60 friends, family members and supporters who joined him along the way. Smith finished the walk with a free concert at Backbone NCO Lounge post.
Previous experience helped prepare him for this year, he said. "I felt I did a little better, but my body felt the same - achy."
Day one of the walk kicked off with much fanfare and Gov. Rick Perry, as about 50 others, joined the Austin-based band for the first five miles.
By day three, said Smith, it was down to just the band - the "core four" - walking along a hot, country stretch of State Highway 183.
"People would stop and tell us their stories," said Smith.
But by the last six miles of the trip, starting at the Killeen Mall, spirits were raised by area residents who joined the band.
An entire platoon from the 502nd Human Resources Company, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, were among those to join the walk.
"It's a great thing he's doing for the troops," said Sgt. 1st Class Nigel Dunn, platoon sergeant. "He doesn't have to do this, but he did it anyway."
The youngest member of the walking group was 7-year-old Army kid Emma Gill, who came out "to support the soldiers."
Her mother, Raylene Gill, pulled Emma's two younger siblings in a wagon from the mall to Fort Hood in combat boots.
"I did it because my husband is overseas right now and I'll do anything to support our troops," said Gill. "(Emma's) dad put on Facebook that he's proud of his kids for wanting to try this for soldiers."
In addition to raising awareness, the walk benefited the nonprofit Boot Campaign, which aims to show tangible appreciation to the military, raise awareness of the challenges they face upon return and support their transition home.
Smith's goal was to raise $10,000, which he exceeded in the first day of walking. By day five, he'd earned $15,000.
"There's not a lot of guys who really leverage their fanbase and influence like Granger does," said Larry Murray, director of operations for the campaign. "He's so outspoken with the music and the video, and he really honors the military and our campaign. We consider him an ambassador for the Boot Campaign."
Jennifer Entner of Austin walked the first day and drove to Fort Hood to join Smith for the last day.
"I came just to show support for our troops," she said. "Most of us aren't old enough to know what it was like in the 1970s after Vietnam, but we know enough to know it wasn't right and we don't want to see it happen again."
Entner's employer, Benchmark Mortgage, raised more than $3,000 for the Boot Campaign.
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.