Chris Senopole and Adam Shatarsky are former Marines walking across America to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. This worthy endeavor drew enough attention that a crowd greeted them outside of Clarksville, Arkansas with a brass band on August 8th and accompanied them from the city limits to the courthouse for a ceremony that touched everyone present. But the next day, Senopole and Shatarsky were seen accepting a ride to Morrilton, 52 miles away, where sources say they accepted another ride to Little Rock. That’s 105 miles by car, not on foot. Worse, they had walked into Clarksville after being driven most of the way from Ozark to Coal Hill. In fact, it is not clear whether Senopole and Shatarsky walked enough of Arkansas to count the state as part of their walk.
Senopole and Shatarsky claim to have been marching since their start on the West Coast at a pace of 26 miles a day — not an impossible feat for two former Marines, but not an easy one either. Some of my contacts say they do not appear physically fit enough for that kind of sustained pace. Have they in fact walked the entire distance only to find the humidity too high in Arkansas, or have they actually been cheating all along?
The question would be less unsettling if not for the fact that both men have been observed accepting wads of cash from people — amounting to at least $1,500 in Arkansas alone — but none of those cash donations appear on their GoFundMe page. They have been staying in comped rooms and been treated to both restaurant and home-cooked meals along their route. Are Senopole and Shatarsky overwhelmed by success, or are they playing fast and loose with easy money? Are they in fact walking at a three-mile an hour ruck march pace for nine to twelve hours a day under a baking desert sun to fulfill their pledge of support, or are they thumbing rides and enjoying themselves with the girls they meet?
These questions do not come from me, but from a diverse community of activists in Arkansas who are concerned that a fraud may be in progress. They saw what this blog has done for communities and turned to me. The people that Senopole and Shatarsky skipped in Conway, Arkansas had planned their own welcomes, and feel let down now, and none more so than the law enforcement officers who were supposed to support their journey. A collapse of confidence among law enforcement would be mission-ending, especially given the thousands of dollars Shatarsky and Senopole have collected while in the Natural State.
Senopole and Shatarsky have also met a surprisingly diverse number of politicians in Arkansas. A collapse in the confidence of public office holders would spell an end to positive media interest, which is all that Senopole and Shatarsky seem to be concerned about at the moment. They want to meet the Commandant of the Marine Corps at journey’s end; unless they are willing to actually walk there, I don’t think General Amos will want to meet them.
We veterans are among the most widely abused charitable causes. In a 2011 survey of veterans charities (.PDF), half of the studied nonprofit organizations received a failing grade from the American Institute of Philanthropy. Wounded Warrior Project is considered something of a gold standard for vets charities, a reliable nonprofit that spends every dollar it can on those who have given the most. So it is interesting that the organization’s graphic has disappeared from the Wounded Walk Facebook page. Sources say that WWP was unpleasantly surprised to discover the change.
Here is the Wounded Walk map. Note that the route seems to follow Interstate highways; that is interesting for two reasons. One, you would expect their Facebook and Twitter feed to include photos of welcome signs at each state boundary, or mile markers, or other signs of regular progress, but there are mostly pictures of themselves being greeted, attending rodeos, press, and so forth. The page does link to a geolocation tracking service, but that link shows no messages at all.
The second interesting thing here is that many of the states through which they now plan to walk prohibit pedestrians on the Interstate. Texas, Nevada, and New Mexico do not. Such laws are not always enforced, but they do exist, which is one reason why the involvement of local law enforcement in providing escort has proven so important to the walk — and will be even more important if Senopole and Shatarsky are to complete their mission. They will pass through urban areas where you simply cannot safely walk right alongside the Interstate highway without an escort. I know this first-hand. Construction zones are a huge problem even with an escort.
But the map also concerns me because of the entry dates on the Wounded Walk Facebook page. Senopole and Shatarsky were in Henryetta, Oklahoma on the morning of July 31st and in Fort Smith, Arkansas by the evening of August 2nd — a journey of 94 miles. They also claim to have been in the vicinity of Hemet, California on June 16th, but then on the 27th they claim to be in Pine, Arizona, having managed a blistering 37 mile a day pace. Again, that is not impossible, but it is very hard to maintain that kind of pace for a sustained campaign of march.
I have reached out to Wounded Warrior Project, who appear to be an innocent in all of this, for comment. Senopole and Shatarsky tell me they will be starting again tomorrow from Lonoke without an escort, aiming to continue their 20-30 mile a day pace. As they told their Facebook fans on August 12th,
We are currently in Little Rock, Arkansas. We skipped from Morrilton AR to get here for a bit of a break and to visit with friends who have driven in for us. We will be doing a few meetings in Little Rock and then finishing our visit with family the 20th. We hope that you can bare with us through this break and we hope that you keep on supporting your wounded warriors!!!! Stay strong #sorefeetnation and keep on trucking!
In a text message exchange this morning, Shatarski told me that they skipped Conway because they had too many meetings in Little Rock (in fact, they met the mayor and governor). He claims they have walked “about half” of the 141 miles they have traveled since Ozark, an assertion that contradicts eyewitness reports. He has so far not responded to my question about their GPS tracking page. Information is still coming in, so expect updates. For now, enjoy these
walkers hitchhikers being interviewed by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly:
UPDATE 1 (3PM 21AUG): At the Coal Hill VFW, Senopole and Shatarsky were overheard excitedly discussing an endorsement offer from the sports apparel company Under Armour. Wounded Warrior Project’s graphic disappeared from their Facebook page somewhere between Coal Hill and Little Rock. I have contacted the company for comment and will update if they reply. If true, this story explains the sudden disappearance of Wounded Warrior Project from their Facebook page — and ends any lingering arguments about the character of their “walk.” It is a hitchhike, and it is no longer for charity.
According to multiple and independent observers, Chris Senopole and Adam Shatarsky are too pale to have just crossed the desert Southwest on foot. Here is a pic from their Facebook page, where they now say they are “accepting rides and help along the way so we can make our timeline.” Judge for yourself whether they look as Sun-scorched as Governor Mike Beebe:
The duo says that they have been wearing long sleeves all along their “walk,” as you can see in their photos. But even with kerchiefs and long sleeves, a few weeks under the Southwestern sun should have left them crispy brown somewhere. Arkansans to whom I spoke were uniformly suspicious about this on first glance. I am particularly struck by the absence of tan lines from the sunglasses they always wear in their outdoor photos.
In fact, no one exactly remembers seeing these boys break a sweat. Except for their five-mile entry into Clarksville, they have not taken another step between Ozark and Lonoke, which are 154 miles apart. I spent yesterday afternoon and this morning checking each stage of their trip across the state; I can safely say that they have hitchhiked 149 of those miles. Which brings me to this photo on their Facebook feed:
While in Little Rock, Shatarsky and Senopole said they would be taking Highway 70 through Lonoke. But locals tell me that the sign in the photograph is at the I-40 off ramp, which strongly suggests they are hitchhiking on the Interstate again rather than walking. They still have not turned on their GPS tracker, and rather than answer my question about it yesterday, Shatarsky told me to cease contacting them. See, they don’t want to talk to anyone who asks, y’know, questions. But again, these questions came to me from Arkansans who were underwhelmed by the dynamic duo.