Vet walking from Springfield to St. Louis to raise awareness about human trafficking

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. — A soldier is marching more than 200 miles to raise awareness about human trafficking. His journey has been a challenge, but he is determined to see it through.

While serving overseas as an army specialist during the Iraq war, Damian Gehris said he was exposed to the horrors of human sex trafficking and children working in brothels. When the Springfield, Missouri native returned the U.S., he learned the evils of trafficking are lurking at home.

"I didn't really know it existed," said Gehris. "Maybe I just wasn't paying attention."

He said what started as an interest has become an obsession. A soldier is marching more than 200 miles to raise awareness about human trafficking. His journey has been a challenge, but he is determined to see it through.

While serving overseas as an army specialist during the Iraq war, Damian Gehris said he was exposed to the horrors of human sex trafficking and children working in brothels.

When the Springfield, Missouri native returned the U.S., he learned the evils of trafficking are lurking at home.

"I didn't really know it existed," said Gehris. "Maybe I just wasn't paying attention."

He said what started as an interest has become an obsession.

Gehris, who now serves the Army Reserves, founded an organization called Liberation 7: liberation, meaning "freeing of the slaves from oppression and imprisonment," and "7" representing the seven continents. The organization is raising money to offer support and services to victims of human trafficking.

In an effort to raise awareness and donations, Gehris is marching from Hammons Field in Springfield to Busch Stadium in St. Louis. He is traveling along Interstate 44, a major thoroughfare for trafficking.

"I knew I would be vulnerable on 44 especially if there are people trafficking and stuff like that and putting my name out there, but I had to do it," said Gehris.

Gehris began his journey on October 29. He planned to complete the more than 200-mile hike by Sunday, November 3.

Gehris reached St. Clair, Missouri on Friday (Nov. 8). He has traveled more than 160 miles and now hopes to reach Busch Stadium by Sunday (Nov. 10).

Gehris has faced several injuries along the journey: his feet are blistered and his knees are aching. He has faced below-freezing temperatures during his travels.

He said he has been pushed to his limits physically and mentally.

"The pain that I'm going through is absolutely nothing what the victims within the human trafficking world are going through and what their families are going through, which is a big reason I press on from the pain," said Gehris.

Gehris has documented his journey on his Facebook page He has attracted a lot of attention and support along the way.

Countless people have stopped to meet him on I-44. They have taken pictures, offered prayers, and donated to his organization. Gehris's GoFundMe page has raised more than $5,400.

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