CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION SYKES, Iraq - For Tennesseans, volunteerism is deeply-rooted. After all, the state's official nickname "the Volunteer State" derives from the record number of volunteers the state provided during the War of 1812 and the Mexican War.
This commitment to selfless service was showcased by the citizen-Soldiers of the Tennessee Army National Guard's 1st Squadron, 230th Air Cavalry Squadron, Troop F, Task Force Desperado, as they hosted the Contingency Operating Location (COL) Sykes Half Marathon Wounded Warrior Project Fundraiser, at COL Sykes, Tal Afar, Iraq, Feb 24.
The 13.1 mile race raised $4,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and was followed by an award and recognition ceremony. Participants and volunteers received gifts courtesy of donors from the National Football League's Tennessee Titans, including an autographed football, t-shirts, bumper stickers and hats, as well as gift certificates from the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES).
The WWP was started by a group of veterans moved by difficult stories of the first wounded service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among other things, the WWP seeks to directly assist wounded warriors by providing for the needs of the most severely injured veterans.
The organization invites a variety of volunteer fundraising activities, and the Soldiers of the 1-230th ACS accepted that invitation, organizing an event that drew participants from more than half a dozen military units operating from COL Sykes, as well as civilian contractors.
According to the Maj. Andrew Maguire, commander, Troop F, 1-230th ACS, the half marathon concept developed from his desire to maintain his troop's morale as they neared the end of their 12-month deployment. The native of Mobile, Ala., currently residing in Jackson, Tenn., wanted something for his Soldiers to target - something enjoyable -- and he enlisted the help of one of his young lieutenans who tied the half marathon into the fundraising event.
"I was familiar with the Wounded Warrior Project and because we're deployed, it seemed like a logical organization to tie into the run," said 1st Lt. Brian Lennon, a native of Nashville, Tenn., OH-58D pilot and platoon leader, Troop F, 1-230th ACS.
"Major Maguire wanted something beneficial in terms of physical fitness and maintaining our high espirit de corps. By connecting the half marathon to the WWP, it allowed Soldiers to set a physical training target with the added incentive of knowing that their contributions were going to a great cause."
The event was also marked by a tribute to two of the 1-230th ACS' own fallen warriors, Capt. Marcus Alford, of Knoxville, Tenn., and Chief Warrant Officer Two Billie Jean Grinder, of Gallatin, Tenn. Both were killed in an OH-58D helicopter accident Feb. 21.
To honor their beloved pilots, the 1-230th ACS dedicated the event in their names, conducting a moment of silence, and several participants wore t-shirts honoring the lives and loss of two of Tennessee's finest.
"This event initially had nothing to do with Marcus and Billy Jean," said 1st Lt. Lennon. "[Losing] two of our own warriors this week made today truly personal, and not just to us in the unit, but to other participants whose lives Marcus and Billie Jean touched."
Two of those Soldiers were fellow pilots Chief Warrant Officer Two Jameson Quaine and Chief Warrant Officer Two Katie Jones, both AH-64D Apache helicopter pilots with Company C, 2nd Squadron, 159th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion. They created t-shirts in memory of Capt. Alford and Chief Grinder.
Chief Quaine placed first in the men's open category with a run time of 1 hour, 25 minutes. Chief Jones was the female first place winner with a run time of 1 hour, 51 minutes.
"I enjoy running and just being around runners so once I heard about the half-marathon being sponsored by the 1-230th ACS I was motivated to participate," said Chief Quaine. "But today had special significance. Aviators are a tight-knit group. Losing friends and fellow aviators [hurts] the entire aviation community so it was important for me to show my support by running."
"I have never felt like a competitive enough runner to compete in long runs," added Chief Jones. "The WWP is a valuable project, but I ran in honor of the fallen pilots, as a show of support to their families and the unit."
Sergeant John Fields is an administrative noncommissioned officer with Troop F, 1-230th ACS. The native of Milan, Tenn., devoted a significant amount of his personal time to helping organize the fundraiser.
"Months ago, I agreed to do all I could to help, particularly when I learned that the funds were being donated to such a great program like the Wounded Warrior Project," said Sgt. Fields. "The WWP hits home with Soldiers. It gives us an opportunity to help our own, so to speak. But obviously, after the loss of our two pilots, the race took on an additional level of meaning for us."
He continued, "Today was our chance through fellowship to recognize Captain Alford and Chief Grinder. Some of us needed to get together to show our love and support to them and their families. We were able to do that; they meant so much to us, and it meant a lot to us to get to honor them today."