It’s been 14 years. 14 years since I saw Lauren’s [a college classmate] heart break. I grew up an Army brat but I was still fairly naive until then. I thought we would march in and out of Iraq without issue. Man was I a fool.
It’s been 14 year. 14 years since word swept through the dorms of Regis College that Lauren’s [boyfriend] Jeff had died in combat in the war in Iraq. How could it be?! Didn’t we just see him?! Wasn’t he just here hanging out with us?!
It’s been 14 years. My how times have changed. That war I so naively thought we would walk in and out of still rages on. That young Marine, Lance Corporal Jeffrey Burgess, and so many others never came home.
I only knew Jeff through Lauren, he was always so kind when he would visit her at Regis. One of those people that greeted you as if you had known each other for years even if it was your first time meeting him.
Back in College I would run the James Joyce Ramble every year, a 10K in my hometown. The year after Jeff’s death was the year they assigned names of the fallen to runners. I had written about Jeff and this race for my Rhetoric class. My professor sent in my piece to the race director and they took the time to make sure I was assigned his name. That was the first time I officially ran in his memory.
When I decided to run my first Marine Corps Marathon, continuing to run in his memory, and for all our fallen. Our fighting service members were on my mind as well since my own husband had now joined that group who raised their right hand in service to our country knowing full well that a war is still going on.
I’ve never healed from the bite that the running bug gave me over 8 years ago. My steps have grown more purposeful with each one I take. One year while running the Marine Corps Marathon I was brought to my knees as I approached a sea of people in blue holding American flags. The reverantial spirit I felt that day was like no other. I looked up who those people out there were and came across wear blue: run to remember.
When we moved to San Antonio there was a wear blue community there and we joined them for Memorial Day. I was 35 weeks pregnant with Mikey and the weather was miserable. It was humid and buggy and then it down pour rained! Yet it was an amazing day. Not a single person complained. Troy ran on doing a mile for every service member in the 4th Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division who was killed in action during their deployment to Afghanistan the year before, a place he himself almost didn’t come home from. I knew then that wear blue would be an organization we would be dedicated to as a family.
Some how I ended up becoming the coordinator for wear blue in San Antonio. I took a break as coordinator while pregnant with Audie but I still regularly continued to run in blue and still called out the names of the fallen on Saturdays. When the San Antonio coordinator position came up again I wasn’t going to take it on again. I had too much going on. I had five kids and my husband was deployed again, I couldn’t possibly take this group on again. Yet God had other plans for me and lead me to say yes because this mission is not about me. Whenever things got hard as a coordinator or a runner I could hear whispers of this isn’t about you Liz; remember Jeff, this is for Jeff. Remember Sgt Adam Kennedy, this is for him, for PFC Barrett Austin, it’s for him, it’s for all of the fallen. It’s for all of the families left behind that you’ve gotten to know over the last several years. The tears you’ve shared with them as they tell stories of their loved ones. It’s for all the fighting.
Upon leaving San Antonio I was asked to step into a new role with wear blue, as a community lead. As I discussed the position with various friends and family members I got an array of answers but when a friend described back what it was like for her to watch me go through the wear blue mile in San Antonio and for her to experience the mile as well that’s when I knew my answer would be yes.
Every volunteer with wear blue helps keep the mission alive. Runners, flag holders, community leads, community coordinators, donors, etc…they all play a vital role in this organization and I am so blessed to be a part of it.
It’s been 14 years since Jeff died and he is truly the start of how I got to where I am today. He is why Sophia and I went out on a cold rainy morning to volunteer with wear blue. It was amazing to be on the other side of the wear blue mile and watch other runners go through. As the winds blew the flags I knew the spirits of all the fallen were with us.