Friday, August 17, 2012

Run for the Fallen this Weekend in Ogunquit

Tributes and flags from last year’s Run for the Fallen (courtesy photo)
By C. Ayn Douglass
Staff Columnist

On Flag Day, June 14, 2008, a group of runners made it their goal to run from Fort Irwin, California, to Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the lost lives of servicemen and women who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since then, the Run for the Fallen has been an annual event in many states and is locally supported by many towns.
On August 19 in Ogunquit, the fifth annual Run for the Fallen will take place with an expected 200 runners covering the forty-two miles between the town square and the end point in Portland.
While the energy and excitement of the event is spectacle enough, the run is a staging point for a  more sobering and deeply felt commitment held by organizer John Mixon and his dedicated group of volunteers and supporters. Their mission doesn't begin or end with the Run for the Fallen. It is a year-round labor of love.
Mixon, a military veteran himself, realized that the pain from the sudden loss of a family member on foreign soil doesn't end with the funeral. It goes on and takes the form of emotional and financial upheaval. In Maine, the lives of the families of eighty-one servicemen and women have been changed forever as a result of that loss.
“The biggest thing we do is raise awareness and make a great day for them,” Mixon said. “Not only a great day; a no red-tape lifeline when they have a need.” Those needs are quite basic such as fuel oil, medicine, funeral expenses or vehicle repair. “Throughout the year, we know they are legitimate (needs) because they're sent to us by Survivor Outreach, a program run by the National Guard.”
The project also set up a scholarship fund for surviving children of veterans. This year, five $1,000 scholarships were awarded to family members. “All who applied got one. Same as last year,” Mixon said.
In addition to helping with financial needs, Mixon has helped to create an emotional support network within the Maine families, many of whom will be at the event on August 19 either at the start or the end of the run. He calls the families the 'silent sufferers.' “We, who haven't experienced that, can't understand. It's real-life stuff and you're touched by it.”
He sees the difference between the Vietnam-era culture and that of today.
“The country has done a 180-degree turn from the 60's and 70's. I can't turn back the hands of time, but we can make it better for this generation of soldiers,” he said.
Mixon said he expects a good turnout for this year's run and doesn't ask or encourage anyone to attempt to run all sixty-five kilometers. “We have no expectation that everyone will finish.”
It's enough, he said, that the soldier's family will see the runner and recognize the tribute that he or she is paying to the fallen soldier. There is no one-size-fits-all description of a participant. Mixon said many families, military people, or people who just want to walk have taken part on event day.
Mixon relies on a dedicated team of volunteers who assist him throughout the year including more than 100 on event day alone, as well as a core group of individuals who assist him the rest of the year.
Though 2012 is the final year Mixon and his volunteers will organize the Run for the Fallen, memorializing the servicemen and women and honoring their families in the future may take a new form, perhaps as a 5K run, Mixon said. Also, he is working with Governor Paul LePage to create a non-profit acquisition of land in Kittery to build a memorial to all Maine veterans.
“It's the start of the Gold Star Highway,” he said. It would tie it all in and permanently honor Gold Star Families and Maine veterans.