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Military service members to put their silkies on and whoop it up in Norwich Saturday

Norwich — When fall weather arrives, it’s not unusual to see walkathons, awareness walks for various causes, but the Silkies Hike that will traverse city streets on Saturday will be quite a different spectacle.

Hundreds of veterans and active military service members from all branches and even foreign services will don tight, short shorts — some wearing not much else — and carry flags or other accessories. They'll cheer, sing, chant and whoop their way through downtown Norwich on their way to the Mohegan Sun Casino.

The fourth annual Silkies Hike, coordinated by Irreverent Warriors and Guardians of the Purple Heart, basically is a mental health day for veterans and active service members, district coordinator Doug Capazzi of Waterford said. Only service people are invited to the free hike, and spectators are welcome to line the route, honk, cheer and wave flags to greet the walkers.

“It’s pretty much a day for veterans battling the mental demons and battling the stuff internally to open up and talk about their struggles,” Capazzi said. “It’s a sight to be seen. The camaraderie, the antics, the debacles. It’s hilarious."

The hike will begin at the state Department of Motor Vehicles parking lot on Route 82 near the Holiday Inn. Walkers can register starting at 8 a.m. until the 9 a.m. step-off time. Participants will walk the length of West Main Street to downtown, continue up Washington Street to Chelsea Parade and then continue to Lafayette Street and Canggio Restaurant for lunch.

After lunch, they will continue the walk along Sachem Street to Broadway to downtown, passing City Hall. They'll head down Bath Street to Franklin Street and stop at Epicure Brewing, where 86’d Bar & Eatery will cater more food for the hikers before they continue to Oak Street, through Greeneville, over the Viaduct and down Route 32 to the Mohegan Sun Casino for an after party.

The hikers will stay on the sidewalks mostly, halting traffic only to cross streets and closing Lafayette Street in front of Canggio for lunch.

Norwich police will help guide the walkers through the city, and Mohegan Tribal Police will pick up the task at the Montville border.

There will be snacks and water stations for hikers along the way.

The entire event is free for hikers, except food available for purchase at discounts provided by Canggio and 86’d, both owned by the Cancho family, Capazzi said.

Capazzi, who served in the U.S Army from 1998 to 2007 and completed two deployments in Iraq, said he got involved in the Silkies Hike as a volunteer for a few years and gradually became more involved in organizing the hikes. Last year, his own organization, Guardians of the Purple Heart, took over coordination of the hikes. The pandemic did not stop the Norwich event a year ago.

Capazzi now is district coordinator for Silkie Hikes in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and one in Albany, N.Y. The only other hike in New England this year was in Milford, Mass. He hopes to hold hikes in Rhode Island, Boston and elsewhere. He also trains incoming coordinators.

The Silkies Hike is a day of fun for the participants, Capazzi said, but the underlying themes of mental health and suicide prevention are critical.

“We will have a veteran come up to us and say, ‘I needed this. I was in a bad place,’” he said. “Now more than ever, we need this.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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