Paddle off the war

Two tours in Afghanistan took a toll on Joshua Ploetz.

The former Marine was injured in a roadside bomb. He lost friends in combat, and later, to suicide.

When the Winona, Minnesota, resident returned from the war eight years ago, he was coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, the fallout from a minor stroke and other injuries. Adapting to civilian life proved difficult. Relationships failed, employment was hard to come by and, Ploetz said, he had an overwhelming feeling of being "lost."

This summer, Ploetz, 30, found direction — and became an inspiration — paddling a canoe the length of the Mississippi River. He launched on May 19 in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, where the river begins as a narrow creek lined with tall trees and bald eagle nests.

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Below is a selection of Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert's photographs of Joshua Ploetz.

Joshua Ploetz retrieves gear from his canoe as he sets up camp along the Mississippi River, in Donaldsonville, La., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Ploetz, a former Marine veteran who has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, planned to paddle the length of the river. The idea of the river journey was set in motion years ago by a chance encounter in a bar with Matthew Mohlke, author of “Floating Down the Country,” who told Ploetz about his book describing his solo canoe journey paddling the Mississippi in 1999. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

Former Marine Joshua Ploetz smokes a cigarette after setting up camp during his journey canoeing down the Mississippi River in Donaldsonville, La., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. The trip to the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico would take 69 days, about 50 of them spent paddling. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

Joshua Ploetz, a Marine who fought in Afghanistan, canoes in the Mississippi River near Venice, La., Sunday, July 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Names of Marines who died either in battle or after returning home and who were close to Joshua Ploetz are printed on the side of his canoe near Port Eades, La., Monday, July 28, 2014. His comrades he dubbed his "battle buddies." Ploetz, who has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder canoed the entire Mississippi River. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Joshua Ploetz, a Marine vet who fought in Afghanistan and has post-traumatic stress disorder, left, and his traveling companion Aleks Nelson, right, paddle in the Mississippi River in Jefferson Parish, La., Friday, July 25, 2014. Ploetz said he knows his own battle with post-traumatic stress isn’t over, and may never be, but the river taught him how to cope. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

Joshua Ploetz, right, a Marine vet who fought in Afghanistan, and his traveling companion Aleks Nelson, take off from camp underneath the Hale Boggs Bridge in the Mississippi River during their trip down the river in Luling, La., Friday, July 25, 2014. Ploetz, who planned to paddle the length of the river, brought with him a baton made from the handle of a stretcher that carried wounded troops in Afghanistan, which Ploetz called a symbol of hope for struggling veterans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

Joshua Ploetz, a Marine vet who fought in Afghanistan and is dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, reads Biblical scripture, as he awakes to paddle his final day to the Gulf of Mexico, in Venice, La.,Monday, July 28, 2014. Ploetz has been paddling the entire length of the Mississippi River. The trip to the mouth of the river at the Gulf of Mexico would take 69 days, about 50 of them spent paddling. But Ploetz said he needed every inch of the more than 2,500-mile river to paddle away the demons of the war, or at least calm them a bit. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

Joshua Ploetz, a Marine vet who fought in Afghanistan, addresses a group of marines in New Orleans, Friday, July 25, 2014. The marines surprised Ploetz who was canoeing the Mississippi River. Ploetz was injured in a roadside bomb and said he lost friends in combat, and later, to suicide. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

JA U.S. Marine greets Joshua Ploetz, a Marine vet who fought in Afghanistan, left, as he arrives in New Orleans, Friday, July 25, 2014. About 100 marines surprised Ploetz who was canoeing the Mississippi River. Ploetz traveled the length of the river and created a Facebook page, called “Paddle Off The War,” to mark his trip and raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Joshua Ploetz, a Marine who fought in Afghanistan, celebrates on a crew boat with a baton in the Mississippi River after reaching the Gulf of Mexico in his canoe, near Port Eades, La., Sunday, July 27, 2014. Ploetz, who has been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, paddled the length of the river and brought with him the baton made from the handle of a stretcher that carried wounded troops in Afghanistan, which Ploetz called a symbol of hope for struggling veterans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) 

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Joshua Ploetz, a Marine vet who has post-traumatic stress disorder, left, and his traveling companion Aleks Nelson, set up camp after nightfall, while canoeing in the Mississippi River in Donaldsonville, La., Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Nelson, a kayaker from Duluth, Minn., joined Ploetz about 10 days into the trip and paddled alongside him to the end. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

 

Opening text from the AP story,FORMER MARINE PADDLES AWAY 2 TOURS IN AFGHANISTAN,ByGerald Herbert. To license this story or other AP news, contact us.

 

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