Seven months of planning, training, and stress... all completely and undeniably worth it.
As many of you who read this know, back in November Nathan Huffman came to me with an idea to honor the 48 Marines and Navy Corpsman that we lost during our 2005 deployment to the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq. The idea was to run from the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond to the Marine Corps Memorial in Washington DC.
I knew the distance of just over 100 miles was possible, I had met many people who had done the distance... but it still seemed like a pretty huge task for two amateur runners to take on. We thankfully drew the immediate interest of Kyle Ferkett, another Marine that served with us and then Amy Goodrich-Torbert, the wife of SSgt Goodrich, whom we lost in Iraq.
Even though it was great to have them on board, I knew if we didn't have more people backing us up and couldn't find a banner to run under, to give us legitimacy, that we would never get this thing off the ground. Many of our Marines who had been injured in Iraq, had been helped out by the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that I had only heard positive reports about. When we established contact with them, we had ourselves the banner, so next was the bodies. Thank God for the social networking revolution, because Facebook then became one our biggest allies.
We grew by the surprisingly tedious work of sending out emails, making phone calls, posting flyers, and writing blog posts. Slowly but surely we recruited dozens, then hundreds of people, all willing to provide support in various degrees. Not too long into our adventure we realized we had quite a few people that wanted to be in the thick of it, and help us get to DC by more than just monetary donation.
When it got to the point where we knew we had to go forward with it, no matter what, and we decided to include a relay to give other Marines and supporters a chance to participate in the event itself. In true Marine fashion, our brothers didn't leave the task to take on by ourselves.
The last months of winter, we trained our asses off, and I personally put up my largest mileage ever in training. All was well, except that our donations were trickling in at a depressingly slow rate. Months rolled out quickly and we began to meet challenges and tough questions. We weren't getting any press outlets on board, we realized we needed permits, we needed police involvement, legal advice, etc. All the while, each of us came into personal issues... Huffman's wife was due the same weekend we were supposed to run this thing, my PTSD issues were spinning me out of control and off the training trail, and it looked like we might not be able to pull it all off.
My turning point to hope, was around April 20th, when I received a text message from my friend Tori saying, "Holy cow! Someone just gave you $1000!" This was at a point when we hadn't even raised that much as entire team. Roger Bock and the Marine Corps Family Support Community here in Ohio, sparked me back into believing that we could actually make a difference with this event. Leave it to an old Jarhead to send some rounds down range.
Things looked up, but we still seemed as if we were on shaky ground. The first weekend of May I pulled my groin in Pittsburgh, running my worst marathon ever, making my involvement uncertain. Then Huffman had concerns about his unborn baby, we hadn't heard much from Pittsburgh Marines, and the park service was pissing around with our permit for Iwo Jima. We had so many things falling into place, but huge obstacles following them up like clock work.
Mid-may... only a few weeks from rolling out of Richmond, we weren't sure what was in store...
We were still painfully short of our $5000 fundraising goal, only one newspaper (The Marine Corps Times, thanks to LtCol Douglas and Gina Cavalaro) had picked us up, only one politician (VA Congressman Eric Cantor) had shown any definitive interest, and the park service was STILL giving Huffman the run around. We had the route, the runners, and the support crew in place... but we uncertain if we would have the cash, the attention, and the permission to go forward as planned.
Everyone involved at this point, was committed to seeing it through, hell or high water... and we came to the conclusion that no matter what happened, this was more about honoring the Marines and Corpsman we lost... and nothing could stop that, even if everything else went down in flames.
Once we came to that epiphany, a weight came off of our backs, and then something sort of miraculous happened.
Donations started POURING in... we hit our goal, and then the pace quickened even more, with money coming in almost everyday, and sometimes it seemed as if it was every hour. Our Facebook group exploded with new life. With pressure from Eric Cantor's office, that pesky park service lady caved in and gave us the needed permission for landing. Runners reaffirmed their commitment to doing this thing with us, and every nagging detail seemed to vanish into an annoying memory.
Days before the run, we changed format, this was about making a successful event to honor our brothers, so we didn't leave it on our shoulders to run the full 100... we would instead run a strict relay, preventing any chance of falling short of DC.
The night before the run for our kickoff party, we knew we had already succeeded in what we had set out to do. It was like a family reunion, the best memorial service you have ever attended, and just straight fun all rolled into one. I, at times, couldn't help but smile thinking this was exactly how God intended it to turn out.
The run itself was amazing. Smoother than we could have ever counted on, everyone had done their part and more. People I had never met, became a part of something I will never forget. New and old mixed together for one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of.
We always had at least two people running, holding the American and Marine Corps flags high in the air, over 20 people all relying on each other for the same purpose in honoring 48 of my brothers who laid down their lives for all of us.
When we rolled into Iwo Jima, all together, running in formation, calling cadence, I didn't think that I could be any more proud of the people I was with... until about 15 minutes later.
We presented the flags we had carried the entire 106 miles to Amy and Larry... knowing that this was more special to them than it ever could be to the rest of us. A wife and a father, without the two men they loved, backing us up from the very beginning and right up to the end, tears in their eyes, accepting all that we could give them, the banners that represent everything that their loved ones were willing to give up their lives for.
No Marine has ever died in vain, no matter what war or how unpopular it was. They died for us, and I could never see it so clearly as I did at 5:30 AM on the eve of Memorial Day in Washington DC.