By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetSeptember 17, 2009
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Though Phillip Flick is too young to remember the events of Sept. 11, the 11-year-old joined more than 100 people Friday to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks by walking nearly two miles at Stewart-Watson Field before heading to class at Faith Middle School.
"I wanted to say thank you," said the middle-schooler, whose dad is currently deployed with the 14th Combat Support Hospital, "to everybody currently deployed trying to protect everybody in the United States."
Flick and several teammates from the school's cross-country track team broke a sweat as they lapped the mile-long track twice in a symbolic gesture.
Kim Scofi, president of Operation Homefront's Georgia chapter, described the event as a "physical symbol of moving forward from 9/11."
Operation Homefront, an organization that provides emergency assistance to troops and their families, sponsored the event, which drew families with strollers, military personnel and children from both Loyd Elementary and Faith Middle schools. The event began with the playing of the National Anthem and an invocation by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joel Funk.
The command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Infantry School, Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Walker, gave a speech to participants encouraging them to use the walking time to reflect.
"We gather to honor the nearly 3,000 Americans who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001," he said.
"And the nearly 5,000 service members who've lost their lives since that day in selfless service to our nation ... Today, as you walk, remember those who've given their lives or are in harm's way right now to secure our freedoms."
Walker also challenged the crowd to rejoice in being American rather than wallowing in grief for 9/11.
Walker's words touched Flick, who said the speech was his favorite part of the event.
"You have to be proud of your country and what everybody is doing to keep us safe," he said.
After Walker's speech, the participants were encouraged to walk as many laps around the mile-long track at Stewart-Watson Field as they could before the event concluded. Across post, approximately 220 Dexter Elementary School students ran laps around their school to coincide with the Freedom Walk.
The first participant to complete a lap around the track was 5-year-old James Jacobs, followed by his dad, SSG James Jacobs.
The elder Jacobs, a heavy construction mechanic with the 63rd Engineer Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, said he hoped to spread a message by participating in the Freedom Walk.
"Don't forget about (9/11)," he said. "We need to keep the patriotism going and keep the flags flying."