Friends and volunteers gathered to say their farewells to Robert Weisberg, a Commack Volunteer firefighter who heroically volunteered and risked his life on September 11, 2001, to support the Fire Department of New York as he prepared to make an arduous sixmonth journey on the Appalachian Trail to raise money for Paws of War.
The Appalachian Trail is often described as lifechanging and difficult, and there is no reason to believe that Weisberg’s experience won’t be in line with these descriptors. The trail itself runs 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine.
As the Nesconset-based charity’s president, Rob Misseri, stated, Weisberg is doing this “to give back to others, who will be in this room with their dogs – to move to a better life.”
“They welcomed me like I was one of their own,” said Weisberg of Paws of War, who suffers from PTSD. “What I get from Paws, besides being able to work with Chip (his service dog), is constant friends.” “Being here is a place where I can just be myself,” continued Weisberg.
On 9/11, Weisberg found himself setting up one of the first triages of the attack and described the horrors he experienced. After the first tower collapsed, the fire station Weisberg was assisting in became overwhelmed with debris, ash and people rushing in from the street. He attributes his first aid and survival skills to his background in the Boy Scouts of America – the same organization that also gave him a love of the outdoors.
According to Weisberg, Paws of War provides a community for First Responders and Veterans who otherwise might not have places to feel heard and understood.
Weisberg spoke of the tremendous outpouring of support he’s received from the greater community and those that live along the trail – a tight-knit group. There are even those on the trail that have already offered him lodgings and the ability to tour a local fire station.
“I can’t tell you enough,” when asked how important it is that he gives back to Paws of War, before talking more about Chip.
“Chip can tell when, mentally, when I’m not connected to what’s going on,” said Weisberg. “Part of our training now is for him to be able to pick up on my physical cues that no one else notices.”
It is only through Chip’s support that Weisberg feels he has the confidence to embark on this bucket list endeavor.
“He loves wearing the vest, and he loves working,” stated Weisberg. “And, you can see, he’s proud of what we do together.”
“My plan now is to start marching on March 11 and finish on September 11,” continued Weisberg. He added that flexibility and taking it at your own pace is a big part of the trail.
The emotional sendoff was complete with Weisberg and Misseri walking down a corridor of dogs during a training session as Weisberg said goodbye to friends he would not see for half a year.