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N.B. soldier leaving military job for PTSD charity walk

BURTON, N.B. – A soldier from CFB Gagetown said she was forced to leave the military so she could to do a charity walk.

Cpl. Kate MacEachern wanted to do her second long distance walk to raise money for a charity that helps soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

She said the military told her she had to make a choice.

She chose to leave the army to support her fellow soldiers.

“I asked for support, they said no and I understand that, they obviously have reasons,” MacEachern told Global News.

WATCH: Extended interview with Kate MacEachern

Last year, the 34-year-old walked 562 kilometres from CFB Gagetown, where she’s worked as a tank driver for seven years, to her hometown of Antigonish, N.S.

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She did it to raising money for Soldier On — a foundation that works with soldiers on their physical rehabilitation.

Former Defence Minister Peter MacKay walked with her for the final leg, and spoke very highly of her mission.

“She has inspired a lot of people in the Canadian Forces and a lot of Canadians in what she’s accomplished here,” he said at the time.

MacKay also ensured MacEachern had vacation time after her walk.

This year, when he heard about the situation, MacKay said in a statement:

“I personally would support additional vacation time off to do another walk as long it is not going to endanger her own health.  She and her chain of command would be in the best position to make that determination.”

MacEachern plans to embark on a 45-day walk, from Cape Breton to Ottawa, in support of Military Minds.

She said Military Minds is a critical organization that helps soldiers with PTSD. She calls the disorder a “plague” and says she has close friends she’s watched deal with it, and turn to the organization for help.

Read also: New app, money announced for vets with PTSD

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She set her start date for Sept. 3.

But, on Aug. 15, she’ll turn in her uniform.

“When I sat down in the office and they said ‘No, we won’t support it. If you want to do it as a civilian, fill your boots.’ It hurt,” she said.

“The member initiated the release process prior to the request to participate in the charity event and is scheduled to release from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) later this year,” said Mélina Archambault, a Captain and Public Affairs assistant at the Department of National Defence.

“The chain-of-command informed Corporal MacEachern that, were she to wait until after her release, she would be well within her rights to participate in the event,” she said.

MacEachern said people have told her she’s giving up.

“So many people have started saying now that I’m a bad soldier that I gave up, I quit,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in the military any more. It means that they said no, that they couldn’t facilitate it. So, I walked away in order so that I could facilitate it,” she said.

While MacEachern said she’s been getting some negative back-lash, she’s also receiving messages that have kept her going.

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One message read: “‘Hey Kate. I know you don’t know me, I don’t think we’ve ever met before, I’m in grade 11 in Moncton. I just want to give thanks for the things you don’t know you do … my Dad used to be in the army, and he’s been sick and very angry, with PTSD for a long time. We all knew that but last night he told us.”

MacEachern said she received that message Monday morning, and it made all the difference.