By Butch Meriwether
It was not uncommon for men and women to saddle up their horses or climb into prairie schooners, 19th-century covered wagons, during the 1800s and head west looking for the good life.
Traveling long distances by horses and prairie schooners have long past; travel today consists mainly of trains, planes, automobiles and motorcycles.
However, for California resident 32-year-old Colt Romberger who decided to forgo the modern modes of transportation, he has chosen to ride Gus, his four-year-old horse, from the West Coast to Washington D.C.
His epic journey began May 1, in Santa Monica, Calif., on his easterly trek what he considered a very important mission. His journey he committed to is because his deceased father always wanted to ride coast to coast on a horse.
Colt has been preparing for this ride for almost two years, and like all good cowboys, he is bringing along a sidekick on his ambitious journey. It’s his late father’s best friend Kenny Reichel who is driving the support truck carrying supplies and pulling the horse trailer.
Also shadowing Colt’s ride from Bullhead City to Kingman was Legion of the Silver Rose Northern Arizona Area Director Ron Smith, whose organization advocates Purple Hearts being issued to veterans exposed to Agent Orange and also renowned video photographer Steve Leib who documented the Bullhead City to Kingman leg of the journey. Leib’s video that chronicles Colt’s journey and the interviews he is currently conducting statewide with veterans exposed to Agent Orange will be produced and aired on TV at a later date.
Some might wonder why Colt took up his dad’s challenge and wanted to complete a 3,000-mile journey on a horse. It is simple; he wants to travel from California to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, by honoring his father, talking with everyone he happens upon and educate as many Americans as possible about Agent Orange.
Most importantly, Colt wants to raise awareness about veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange, and also to honor his father and those veterans suffering from debilitating diseases caused by it.
Colt, a veteran of the Iraq War, who now serves as a reserve law enforcement officer with the Pasadena Police in Calif., works as a part-time movie actor and serves as a reserve intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, road into Kingman on Friday, June 10, after an exhausting 41-day trip for his horse and him.
The young Romberger is the son of a Vietnam veteran who was affected by Agent Orange. Cliff Romberger, Colt’s dad, served in Vietnam from 1970-1971 as a member of the 366 TFW “Gunfighters” stationed at Da Nang. Forty one years after he returned home, Cliff was diagnosed by the Veterans Administration (VA) with a brain disease that Agent Orange caused. Sadly enough, Cliff passed away from this disease Sept. 24, 2015.
Agent Orange is an extremely toxic herbicide chemical cocktail the military sprayed in Vietnam and the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). It was part of the U.S.’ strategy in Vietnam and along the Korean DMZ to conduct the herbicide program to remove foliage that was providing cover for the enemy.
It is conservatively estimated that Agent Orange was utilized as a tactical herbicide by the military from 1962 to 1975 and was named for the orange band around the storage barrel. According to information sources, the military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides on trees and vegetation.
It is not actually known how many have died worldwide as a result of Agent Orange exposure, but officials estimate thousands of deaths have occurred. Sadly, it is also widely known that exposure to Agent Orange affects children and grandchildren of individuals exposed to it and it can manifest in later years causing medical issues and conditions for them.
Jerry Ambrose Veterans Council (JAVC) President Pat Farrell says there are about 27,000 veterans currently residing in Mohave County and estimates about half of them served in Vietnam and Korea. Farrell states his organization is currently planning an Agent Orange town hall meeting for October, but doesn’t have the particulars finalized as of yet. He said people
interested in the JAVC can contact him at (928) 716-3001 or visit the council’s website at http://www.kingmancares.org/jerry-ambrose-veterans-council/index.htm.
“My family and I know better than most the devastating toll Agent Orange related diseases can take on veterans and their families,” Colt said. “For many of these vets and their health lays in ruin yet; they receive no recognition for their chemically induced wounds brought on by their service during the war.”
Colt originally estimated that his cross-country trip would only take six months traveling between six and 20 miles per day depending upon the terrain and weather. During one day, Colt was only able to travel eight miles in eight hours because of the extremely rough terrain in the Black Mountains. However, his planned arrival in Washington, D.C., during October has fallen to the wayside. He now estimates the trip will take much longer, so he decided to take a three week hiatus prior to resuming his journey from Kingman on July 1.
“I’ve spoken to so many Vietnam vets, and they’ve emailed me,” Colt said in a voice momentarily choked with emotion. “Sometimes it breaks my heart hearing their stories.”
People, who would like to follow Colt’s progress across America, can do so by visiting his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/expeditionorange and/or visit his website https://expeditionorange.org. For those who would like to donate to help support his mission of awareness, visit his Go Fund Me account at https://www.gofundme.com/expeditionorange. Expedition Orange a 501(c) (3), EIN#81-4984142, is a charitable veterans’ organization and all donations are tax deductible.
Editor’s Note: Butch Meriwether knows all too well about the devastating influence of exposure to Agent Orange that occurred during his combat tours of duty during 1967, 68, 69 and 70 in Vietnam. He had a heart attack during 2003 and received quadruple bypass surgery, suffers from Congestive Heart Failure, Ischemic Heart Disease, is a diabetic on both pills and insulin shots, has high blood pressure, COPD and the VA implanted a pacemaker in him three years ago. The VA has finally recognized his medical conditions as Agent Orange exposure.