Stewart Families Walk to Iraq/Afghanistan in support of deployed Soldiers
April 29, 2010
<b> FORT STEWART, Ga. </b>- Large yellow blotches on area weather radar indicated heavy rain was on the way, but it didn't stop hundreds of spouses and others clad in bright yellow T-shirts from showing their love and support for Soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Drenched spouses, who completed the approximately one-mile walk that began and ended on West Sixth Street at Gulick Avenue on April 24, told the morning's story.
"We are proud to be out here supporting our company and supporting our Soldiers. The rain did not stop us at all. It couldn't stop us. We are too strong," said Jennifer Weitekamp. Her husband, Cpl. Greg Weitekamp is deployed with Company E, 703rd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
It was a sentiment shared by many other spouses and Family Members, including Samantha Fectig, wife of Sgt. Heath Fectig, who is deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
"It's cold and wet," she said. "But I did it for him, not for my comfort. We're here because we care."
Garrison Commander Col. Kevin W. Milton praised participants.
"These are the wives of our Soldiers, the spouses of our Soldiers," Col. Milton said. "They realize what their Soldiers are doing downrange on a daily basis, so a little rain's not going to dampen the spirits of anybody.
"We had an outstanding turnout today despite the rain, and it was unbelievable to see them out there. Nobody had a frown on their face, no matter how wet they were. Everybody was excited to be here, even to form the ribbon in the rain. Nobody left us. They finished the walk and spent time to make the ribbon look nice for our heroes downrange."
Rain was intermittent as participants arrived at Cottrell Field and prepared to participate in the 3rd ID Yellow Ribbon Run/Walk. The rain was steady during the march but stopped while participants formed the huge "human yellow ribbon" for a photograph to be shared downrange.
Tents were set up for the various units to hand out yellow ribbons and T-shirts to participants before the march. Spouses and Family Members wrote the names of the Soldiers they were honoring on the ribbons.
Some ribbons bore specials messages such as "We love you, Daddy," or simply, "I love you." Marchers paused to attach the ribbons to trees along the Gulick Avenue median.
The Walk to Iraq/Afghanistan program - with the theme "Walking for Our Heroes" - was launched in January as a way for those on the homefront to honor and remember those deployed.
Saturday's event marked what was described as the half-way point of the division program. Colonel Milton noted in opening remarks that participants have accumulated a total of 75,000 miles, equivalent to six round trips to Iraq and five round trips to Afghanistan. The farthest walking unit as of April 23 was Division Special Troops Battalion, which has walked to Iraq and back.
Organizers said more than 800 had completed 100 miles, earning them T-shirts that were distributed before the Saturday march. The T-shirts bear the Walk to Iraq/Afghanistan logo.
"I think this is a beautiful tribute and a testament to the Families that they love their Soldiers downrange so much that they are willing to come out in the rain with their strollers and their babies and get wet-they are still walking those miles to get to and from Iraq and Afghanistan and bring all the Soldiers home," said Jacqui Coffman, one of the top organizers of the program. Her husband, Lt. Col. Richard R. "Ross" Coffman, is commander of the 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment and is deployed.
She added that the next phase of the program will be individual units awarding finishing medallions and a certificate to participants.
Jerry and Sarah Kamble came to Fort Stewart from northern Ohio to support their daughter, Kim Watson, whose husband, Pfc. Chris Watson is also deployed with the 1/64 Armor.
Sarah Kamble found the event "heartwarming. We are proud of Chris and what he is doing." She added that she also was proud of her daughter. "(Chris) was here three weeks and he was gone. They had only been married five weeks. Five weeks from wedding to gone."
Pam Swartz came to the event from Acworth, Ga., in support of her daughter and son-in law, Maj. Johnny "Skip" McKinnon and JoAnn McKinnon. She also took part in the January kickoff event.
"I'm just doing my part to bring Skip home," she said.
Hunter event Is May 8
The Yellow Ribbon Walk for Pride, the second event in the Walk to Afghanistan/Iraq series on Hunter Army Airfield, will be held behind the Commissary off Middleground Road starting at 8 a.m., May 8.
A special Yellow Ribbon photo will be taken at 8 a.m. The one-mile walk and 5K Run begins at 9 a.m.
The Veterans Administration will have enrollment forms, pamphlets and answer questions about what services they offer Soldiers and Families.
Family Readiness Groups are encouraged to stay after the event for social activities and interaction.
Call 912-315-2019 for more information.
Follow the Walk on Facebook
Much of the interaction of the Walk/Run to Iraq/Afghanistan is taking place on a dedicated Facebook page, where unit leaders and other participants can log the miles they walk, run, swim, jog, stroll or otherwise accumulate.
The dedicated Facebook page has helped members of the extended Army community around the nation to bond and communicate in honoring deployed Soldiers.
The link to the Facebook page is www.facebook.com/pages/3rd-ID-Walk-to-and-from-IraqAfghanistan/261713572337.