Ruck marches, rallies and more are moving memorials to fallen heroes
In April, Air Commandos participated in the Sixth Annual Air Commando Ruck March. The commandos carried 50-pound rucks for the 450-mile trek from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, to Hurlburt Field. This year’s ruck march was dedicated to the Air Commandos assigned to the 27th Special Operations Wing at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, who perished March 14 in a U-28 crash. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Pick)
By Rindi White
As the Memorial Day weekend approaches, active-duty military, veterans and civilians alike will be taking important steps — literally — to make sure those who have made the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten.
In May, members of all branches, as well as Reserve units, often conduct special miles-long ruck marches, events where they carry large, weighted backpacks as a memorial to fallen comrades. These marches can sometimes pay tribute to military working dogs and first responders as well. But these strides strive for a worthy goal: to honor those who have died in service to the nation and to symbolize the emotional weight that many survivors and veterans carry with them after that service.
However, it’s not just active members of the military who are marching to make sure our nation’s fallen are not forgotten. Nonprofit organizations such as Carry the Load and nationwide charities such as Active Heroes organize similar marches across the nation to honor those who have died in defense of our nation and raise awareness of veteran suicides.
Former Navy SEAL and war veteran Clint Bruce was at a Memorial Day barbecue in 2010, thinking of friends he lost in combat, when an idea struck him to help restore the true meaning of Memorial Day as a day to honor and celebrate the sacrifices made by our military, firefighters, law enforcement and first responders.
On that day seven years ago, Bruce strapped on a pack and began walking. Another veteran, who knew Bruce’s struggle, asked him a fateful question: “Who are you carrying?” At that moment, Bruce said, Carry the Load was born.
He teamed up with fellow Navy SEAL veteran Stephen Holley and developed a campaign to connect Americans to the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes.
The nonprofit uses the whole month of May as a catalyst to bring awareness to its cause and give Americans active ways to participate, donate and volunteer in honor of our nation’s heroes.
Funds raised through the Carry the Load relay, city rallies and marches then supports events in which people can participate, raise money and volunteer in honor of those who have served. Since 2011, $13.7 million has been raised, with $12.5 million used to support programs, $8 million of which went to awareness initiatives.
Donations are also used to support a continuum of care for military, law enforcement, fire fighters and rescue personnel and their families. In 2016, the organization partnered with 17 local and national nonprofit organizations to aid first responders, service members, firefighters and law enforcement officers. Since 2011, $4.5 million has gone to support these nonprofits.
Carry the Load also supports programs aimed at education. The group is forming F.L.A.G. Clubs across the country, which provide a way for students to learn the history of our flag, to learn honor and respect for it and to learn how our veterans have fought for it, as well as basic etiquette: how to fold, lower and gather the flag respectfully.
Carry the Load offers several ways to participate, from telling the story of someone close to you who gave their lives in sacrifice for others to donating in honor of a loved one or participating in Carry the Load events across the nation. Want to join them? Check the website for rallies in your area or “Carry it Anywhere” by hosting your own event.
And join other supporters at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 29, for a National Moment of Remembrance — a moment of silence to honor those who have sacrificed for our country — or register for a ruck march at https://activeheroes.org/carry-the-fallen.