Third Walk with a Soldier march set for May 17Written by Dave Willinger | | email@example.com
It is a simple idea really. Spend a couple of hours connecting with former or active-duty military and do so while engaging in an age-old soldiering activity. Whether you call it hiking, marching or humping, it’s something anyone who has served in the Armed Forces can identify with.
Walk with a Soldier is an area fundraiser for the national nonprofit Wounded Warrior project. The march is the brainchild of Sgt. Timothy Bellville, a former U.S. Marine and Army veteran who served overseas in Beirut, Iraq and most recently Afghanistan. Bellville said the walk is just his way of giving back a little to all brothers in arms, just a way to “say thank you and welcome home.”
The fundraiser, in its third year, is intended “for everybody to come together,” Bellville said. It is not a competitive race, although some participants in previous years, including Bellville’s own children, have enjoyed racing the distance, he said. Instead, he conceived of the walk as a way for walkers to come out and have camaraderie with veterans.
Bellville said he was “flabbergasted” when the inaugural Walk with a Soldier in 2012 raised more than $10,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. All proceeds go to that nationwide charity, which operates combat stress recovery programs and assists veterans who need physical rehabilitation, according to WoundedWarriorProject.org
Bellville said Huntington Bank helped him set up the necessary business accounts, where he keeps only the minimum balance required year-to-year to keep the accounts open. He would prefer all donations be made online directly to Wounded Warrior but does not want to limit the scope of the fundraiser by refusing any pledges. He emphasized he is not paid for his time or efforts organizing the fundraiser.
“I want no money,” Bellville told Toledo Free Press.
He does hope to raise as much as $25,000 from this year’s event, including matching funds from area corporations.
Bellville originally wanted to call his event Walk with a Warrior, but that name was already taken. So he hit upon soldier as an all-encompassing term, Bellville said.
“We welcome all units, first responders, all military personnel,” Bellville said.
The event will step off at Ft. Meigs in Perrysburg at 9 a.m. May 17, with registration starting at 8 a.m. The route includes slight elevations as it winds its way from the 200-year-old fort down to and across the Maumee River, through a residential Maumee neighborhood and along the river toward Sidecut Park and back again. The entire distance is just over nine miles, but there are posted turnaround points for those preferring to walk shorter distances of two or five miles.
Maumee administrator John Jesack said the city granted Bellville’s group a permit for the walk and routinely advise municipal police and fire departments of permitted events. However, since participants are walking on sidewalks, Jesack said there will likely not be a dedicated police presence. Instead, event organizers typically provide their own volunteers to serve as crossing guards as needed.
The course will be clearly marked by thousands of small American flags, donated by the Toledo Memorial Society, Bellville said. The fact that every flag was used to mark the graves of veterans is, in Bellville’s words, “absolutely 100 percent appropriate.”
Walk organizers provide participants with fruit at the starting line, while rest and water stations are set up along the route. Should anyone not feel up to completing their chosen distance, Bellville said they can feel free to turn around at any point to head back. There will also be vehicles available for anyone who needs a lift back to Ft. Meigs. Volunteer nurses will also be on hand.
The fundraiser is “meant to be a physical challenge, but also the opportunity to take a long walk with a member of the military and talk to them,” Bellville said. The distance walked doesn’t matter as much as “the fact that they came out, raised pledges and took part in what we believe in,” he said.
As in the past two years, many veterans and first responders are expected to participate.
Bellville, who works for the City of Toledo in the Water Department, currently serves with the 1484th Transportation Company of the Ohio Army National Guard based in North Canton. He wears the combat patch on his fatigues but plays down his own service, despite his multiple deployments. Most recently Bellville returned from a tour in Afghanistan. His current duties as a senior NCO require about one week per month, Bellville said. The City of Toledo and every administration has been completely supportive of the demands of his military service, he said.
Bellville originally had the idea for the fundraiser after returning home from a deployment in Iraq with the 1483rd Transportation Company of Walbridge. They had suffered “mission casualties,” Bellville said, although not to their unit.
“I felt like I didn’t do my full measure. I felt like I needed to do more,” he said. “I got this going and I am committed to it.”
Bellville’s sister organized last year’s walk on his behalf while he was deployed.
Participants receive a Walk with a Soldier T-shirt and giveaways. He also expects to bestow a donated gift on the person with the most pledges. To donate, go to WoundedWarriorProject.org and click on Proud Supporter Event and search for Memorial Walk with a Soldier III.
Bellville is hoping for 500 participants in this year’s event. To learn how you can help, email Timothy.Bellville@yahoo.com.
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