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6 Million Steps: Why This Veteran Is Walking Across America

Kenny Mintz is getting to know the nation whose burden he carried in combat

Kenneth Mintz walks along 800 St and Nebraksa Rd in Iola KS just cross over the 1500 mile mark on his trek across America. Doug Barrett/@400northcreative for AARP
Kenneth Mintz walks along 800 St and Nebraksa Rd in Iola, Kansas, crossing the 1,500-mile mark on his trek across America.
DOUG BARRETT
people hold up a welcome home sign as someone from the military stands before an american flag. the words aarp veteran report appear above the flag
Getty Images/AARP

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

When Kenny Mintz left from the Army after 34 years, he knew he could make money. But he was eager to do something more meaningful and challenging.

He decided to walk across the nation he had fought for and meet the American people he had served.

Mintz, 52, also wanted to highlight the 14 soldiers who died in combat under his command of the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division during its 2011–2012 tour in the Zhari district in the Kandahar province — which he has described as “the worst of times in the worst of places.”

The retired full-bird colonel is walking 3,000 miles, from coast to coast, to raise money for veterans’ causes and in honor of his mother, who died in 2020 after a five-year battle with pancreatic cancer. “As I started to contemplate her courage, that inspired me,” Mintz told AARP Veteran Report while walking across Illinois.

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Six combat deployments

It was with his mother that Mintz first traveled from Washington, D.C., to Southern California, by car, when he was 4 years old and she was a single mother heading toward a new life. This time, the trip out West, in part a re-creation of that boyhood journey, will take a little longer — nearly seven months.

Mintz is raising money for two veterans’ causes: The Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund, which gives grants to the children of fallen service members; and Operation Resiliency, which organizes reunions for units that served in combat together. Fulfilling one of his mother’s final wishes, he is also seeking funds for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

A West Point graduate from the class of 1991 and father of three daughters and a son — all in their 20s — Mintz served as an Army infantry officer and had six combat deployments: two to Bosnia, one to Iraq and three to Afghanistan.

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Company C, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division on February 2012 at Combat Outpost Nalgham, AfghanistanLaura Rauch/Stars and Stripes
Lt. Col. Kenny Mintz near Nalgham, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, in 2011

20 miles a day

The first thing he did when retired from the Army in 2020 was to settle his mother’s estate. The second was to walk.

“I believe that as human beings, walking is part of what makes us human,” he said. “It’s part of what makes us different from other primates as we move great distances on our feet.”

Mintz started April 1, after training for six months to ensure he could walk 20 miles a day — the pace he’s at now — for six days in a row, and fine-tuning shoes and socks options.

He walks six days a week, taking the seventh day to rest and do laundry. He has a mapped route and a plan for each day, which has him finishing his journey in Encinitas, California, around Oct. 19.

Greatness in front of you

Until then, he will be sleeping in hotels or at friends’ houses by night, traversing America’s small-town veins by day. Putting in roughly 2,000 steps a mile, by the time he finishes, he will have walked 6 million steps.

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Kenneth Mintz poses for a portrait. Doug Barrett/@400 northcreative for AARP
Kenneth Mintz takes a break from walking in the 90 degree heat, under trees on the backroads of Iola, Kansas, and poses for a portrait.
DOUG BARRETT

Mostly, Mintz does not walk alone. Family, friends, classmates and comrades have all heeded his call of “Come walk with me.” A team of volunteers ensures that he is accompanied by a pickup truck to carry supplies and scout out stops ahead. Many days he walks with strangers who have heard his story and want to join him on part of his journey.

These new companions have inspired him. “I’ve had people I didn’t even know stay with me for a week and just walk with me,” he said. “One thing about walking and talking — it creates this really amazing bond.”

He’s said many veterans have told him, “I wish I could do that.”

Anyone can do it, Mintz said. You just have to start — and make sure to look forward toward new opportunities, and not just back at the military life in the rearview mirror.

“I had a great career,” he said. “I believe in what I’m walking for. It feels good to be on a mission out here. There’s still greatness out in front of you if you choose to do that.”

Andrea Scott is editor of the Marine Corps Times and The Spouse Anglea news source for military spouses. You can follow Kenny Mintz’s journey on Facebook and Instagram.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.