MT. VERNON, OH (WCMH) — After a career in the military, Brad Genereux felt isolated and was searching for a purpose. He found it in an unlikely place and is now helping others find their way.
At a young age, Brad Genereux was looking for direction. He found it in the United States Navy. For 22 years, 6 months, and 14 days, Brad dedicated his life to service.
“There’s a lot of growing and maturing he goes on,” Brad says. “You make mistakes, you learn things hopefully, and you learn how to pick up and carry on.”
Brad served as a Seabee, the Naval construction force, and quickly climbed the ranks to senior chief. After Brad’s last tour in Afghanistan, it was time for a change…but life after service in many ways proved to be even more of a challenge.
“You just literally overnight lose your identity,” he says. “I went from being Senior Chief Genereux to being just Brad Genereux and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that. So for me it was particularly difficult. I wasn’t really sure how to fit in, what to do with myself, or even how to relate with a lot of people. So, I found myself becoming pretty isolated and very dissatisfied.”
Along the way, Brad found something that would eventually change his life, an article about the Camino de Santiago.
“It was just breathtakingly beautiful,” he says. “I knew immediately that I was going to hike this thing.”
Brad eventually flew to Paris and started his journey to hike the 500-mile trail into Spain.
“All I had was a backpack and I’ve gone there on the one-way trip,” he said. “I had no expectations. I really had no plans at all. So I started walking and within a week I knew there was something extraordinary about this trip.
“The people you meet, the discussions you have, the very physical activity of just walking every day. The simplicity of it. There’s no distrations. You are able to process things and think them through. After the first time I did it, it was a life-changing experience.
“I felt like I needed to share my story in the hopes of helping other veterans who are in that dark spot. And so I wrote about my story but I felt like that wasn’t enough, so the next step was to start a charity.”
And this Spring, Brad hiked his first Camino with a fellow veteran looking for something to pull him through.
“When we first started he would actually be shaking a little, his hands would shake,” Brad says. “He was visibly agitated. He was nervous, he was very much on edge, he was very tense, he was not approachable. I think it helped that I was military too, we already had that going on so we had immediate trust with each other. But it was very hard for him to step outside of that and talk to strangers. By the time we were done, he was full of life. That was a good feeling.”
Brad hopes that his new mission helps veterans find a way to cope with life after service.
“We are victims of being human and part of the human condition, and they just need to know they’re not in this alone and there’s people out there to talk to, and there’s ways to step in,” he says. “Just keep walking.”
The book is A Soldier to Santiago. The charity is called Veterans on the Camino.