The Iraq war veteran and his sister’s Shiba Inu will cross the country twice

By Kate Hogan
Updated April 12, 2010 03:00 PM

When Troy Yokum arrived home after a tour of duty in Iraq last year, he spent one day relaxing with family before hatching a plan. Stunned by the stories of friends who’d returned from the war and lost their jobs, he was on a mission: To raise money for struggling military families, and bring awareness to his cause.

Now, seven months later, Yokum is preparing to pound the pavement on a 7,000-mile, 16-month cross-country walk, with his sister’s 2-year-old Shiba Inu Emmie by his side. Inspired by Terry Fox, the cancer research activist who attempted to run across Canada with an artificial leg, Yokum, 30, knew he had to do something big to draw attention.

“Terry raised so much money, and I was so impressed with his story,” Yokum tells “I knew if I was at least one-quarter as successful as him, I could raise some serious funds.” Yokum’s goal is to raise $5 million for Soldiers’ Angels, earmarked for needy families.

With the help of companies like Louisville Slugger and Dog Is Good, Yokum’s dream is coming true. On Saturday, he’ll begin the rain-or-shine journey in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., stopping in major cities and 20 Major League Baseball stadiums along the way. He’ll first walk to Los Angeles – “I’m hoping to get on the Ellen DeGeneres Show,” he says – then back east toward San Antonio, and onward to New York City and Boston. From there, he’ll turn around and head back to Louisville.

Estimating his walk at roughly 50 million steps, Yokum knows it’ll be hard on him, as well as on Emmie. “Twenty miles is roughly 100,000 steps for a dog, so you can do the math,” he says. “But I don’t want people to think this is punishing for her.” In fact, Emmie and Yokum take daily 20-mile hikes together, and she’ll get to ride in Yokum’s chase vehicle whenever her paws are pooped. They’ll take days off, too, but only Emmie will get to rest: Yokum plans to fill his downtime with press appearances.

Along the way, the duo will stay with host families and in American Legion and VFW facilities, and visit veterans hospitals to lift soldiers’ spirits. “Emmie can bring a smile to anyone’s face,” Yokum boasts. He’ll also carry a drum to draw extra attention to himself. “I want people to come out and interact, and learn about the cause,” he says. “Qualified men and women who’ve risked their lives for this country shouldn’t be doing teenage-level work. They deserve their well-paying jobs.”

Yokum himself has risked it all for his country as well. “My mom thinks I’ve already scarified enough,” he says. But somehow he’s still finding a way to put others before himself. “If you’d told me a year ago when I was sitting in the desert in Iraq that I’d be doing this, I’d have said, ‘You’re joking’,” Yokum says. “And now, here we are.”

To contribute to Yokum and Emmie’s walk, visit their official Web site (check out the event schedule to see if they’ll be stopping in your city). And help support their cause with the “Never Walk Alone from Dog is Good ($19.99).