Michael Richardson loves to make new friends.

He talks to anyone who listens. He likes to give big hugs and he likes to hold hands. He is always smiling.

Yet, Michael was a little worried about his performance in the 100-meter walk during the Madison County Special Olympics at Milton Frank Stadium on Oct. 14. He was afraid he would fall, that he wouldn't finish the race, that he could break his back.

Not to worry - Michael had two good friends on his side who knew all about encouragement and motivation, who knew how to make all those worries go away, who would be there for him until the very end of the race.

Michael had the U.S. Army's Pvt. Matthew Schultz and Pvt. Kory Roberts with him all the way down the track. They cheered Michael on, they encouraged him when he wanted to stop, they made sure he stayed focused on the goal. And, just for reinforcement, Pfc. Shawn Anders joined Michael's team of friends toward the end of the race to help him push to the finish line.

"See, you didn't break your back. You finished the race," Schultz told Michael as the Soldiers congratulated their special Olympian.

"Did I win'" Michael asked.

"Yes! You'll get a ribbon. A ribbon tells everyone you are a winner," Schultz answered.

Michael's ribbon was one of two second place ribbons he won at the Special Olympics. The other ribbon he won in the softball throw.

"You are a winner!" Schultz told him. "You did a good job! Two red ribbons! I don't even have two ribbons. You did so good today."

Words of encouragement, hugs, cheers and smiles were all part of the day as about 200 Soldiers from the 832nd Ordnance Battalion joined high school students from across Madison County to serve as chaperones, coaches and cheerleaders during the 41st annual Madison County Special Olympics Track and Field Events. With their help, more than 370 special Olympians ran, jumped, threw, walked and dashed to glory on the winner's podium in more than a dozen events.

"This is a great day for these Soldiers. We're overjoyed to be part of this tradition," said Col. Tom Keegan, commander of the 59th Ordnance Brigade, which includes the Soldiers of the 832nd Ordnance Battalion.

"I was talking to a couple Soldiers waiting for the buses (bringing the special Olympians to the stadium) and they were really looking forward to this. We are in the business of service. We provide a service to the nation. A lot of times that means serving in time of war. But it also means service to our local community."

Keegan's son, John, a junior at Columbia High School, was one of the high school students volunteering at the Special Olympics through Columbia's JROTC program.

"It's good for him as a 17-year-old to get out and experience something like this. It's good for him and his school to be involved in serving the community," Keegan said. Everywhere around the stadium field, Soldiers were helping and supporting athletes. Over at the female softball throw, Pvt. David Hawkins and Pvt. Rhiannon Apache were celebrating the first place finish of their charge, athlete Denise Framarin.

"She really did a good job," Hawkins said. "She can really sling that ball. She's my hero."

"My brother-in-law teached me how to throw the ball," Denise said.

Pvt. Mario Curry and Pvt. Kyvias Moore cheered on Jeremy Shubert in the 50-meter dash while Pvt. Juan Chacon and Pfc. Elvis Guevara waited with James Grimmett for his try at the 25-meter wheelchair dash. Spc. Heather Pierce and Pvt. Jennifer Hobson spent the day with athlete Kay Sampson, who competed in the softball throw and the 50-yard dash.

"I helped out with Special Olympics when I was 10 or 11 in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio," Pierce said. "My grandparents had adopted a boy with Down's syndrome, so I went with him and helped him out. I'm glad to be here today to help with this Special Olympics."

Pvt. Jose Campos ran alongside the runners in the 200-meter dash, carrying the pink backpack of runner Dulche Vega, who came in second place.

"Did you hear the people cheering for you'" Campos asked Dulche.

Pfc. Chris Northcutt and Pvt. Samuel Adams were trying to keep athlete James Lowery interested in his performance in the standing long jump.

For his part, James was more interested in collecting pieces of artificial turf than jumping in the competition. But when it came his time to jump, Northcutt and Adams got James to the starting line and encouraged him to give it his best. James finished in fourth place, getting a "high five" from his Army chaperones.

"Yeah, I like these guys. I'm having fun," James said, giving Northcutt and Adams a hug.

Another standing long jump contestant, athlete Bobby Myrick, excelled at the competition. His chaperone, Staff Sgt. Brian Lettenmaier, cheered and clapped as Bobby took his place atop the winner's podium.

"It's really been quite the reward coming out here and helping the kids out," Lettenmaier said.

Back over at the walking track, it's hard to tell who the winners are - Michael or his cheering team of Schultz, Roberts and Anders.

"Days like this make it all worth it," Schultz said.

"I like helping the community," Anders added. "I would do it as a civilian. Why not do it as a Soldier' It's great to help out and be part of something like this that can really make a difference."