Walk with Soldier march to benefit Wounded Warrior ProjectWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Morgan Delp and Sarah Ottney, Toledo Free Press Staff Writers
Sfc. Timothy Bellville said he stopped in his tracks when he heard how much the inaugural Walk with a Soldier Memorial Road March had raised for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I had to stop midway through the march because I heard we raised about $10,000 just from peoples’ pledges and from people showing up,” Bellville said.
The 9-mile march, which Bellville planned and organized in less than two months, was held May 26, 2012. Participants walked from Fort Meigs in Perrysburg through Side Cut Metropark in Maumee over the Maumee-Perrysburg bridge to the edge of Monclova and back during a span of about four hours.
In total, the effort raised more than $15,000 for an organization that raises awareness and provides services for injured service members.
This year, with Bellville deployed to Afghanistan, his sister Sherry Kertesz has taken over planning the march, which is set for Sept. 7. Registration will be 8 a.m. with the walk starting at 9 a.m.
“I’ve been coordinating with him in Afghanistan, which has been a little difficult,” Kertesz said. “I’ve been sending him everything, trying to forward everything to him and keep him in the loop. This is definitely his project. He came up with the whole idea. He doesn’t want anyone to honor him. It’s all about honoring his buddies and those who died. That’s his heart.”
This year’s walk will offer three distances: 2 miles, 5 miles and 9 miles.
“We wanted to make it a little more family-friendly,” Kertesz said. “They all go the same way, but turn around at different places.”
Bathrooms and water stations will be available along the route.
Cost to register is $10 for children 12 and younger and $15 for adults by Aug. 15, which includes a T-shirt. After Aug. 15, cost is $20, but without the T-shirt. Volunteers can sign up for $8, which includes a T-shirt.
Kertesz served as volunteer coordinator at last year’s event.
“People were all excited,” Kertesz said. “Some people came in teams, some people were supporting a particular soldier who may or may not have been wounded. It was very, very patriotic.”
Bellville, who was born and raised in the Toledo area, served as an infantry Marine for eight years in the 1980s before joining the Ohio Army National Guard after 9/11.
His goal was to plan an event that was difficult enough to be challenging while also creating visibility in the community, but said he was not expecting such a successful turnout.
“It started in April ,” Bellville said. “I had more soldiers being deployed than [weren't]. They were all going over there and I wanted to do something to honor them, but also to remember the ones that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“With the drawing down of Operation Iraqi Freedom and [Operation] Enduring Freedom, there might be a period of time where the wounded warrior might be forgotten. We want to make sure service men and women with mental and physical difficulties don’t fall by the wayside.”
Last year’s march drew about 300 walkers, including members of about five local police and fire departments and about 40 military members, many of them dressed in full body armor, Bellville said.
“The idea of doing it with soldiers was for people to get an idea of what it’s like to be a soldier, walking patrols on a regular basis in full battle uniform during all ranges of weather, climates, conditions and terrain,” Bellville said. “We wanted to give the public and the families a better understanding of what they go through … and foster more support.
“It was really almost breathtaking to see the amount of support. I would have been happy with 50 people and $1,000.”
Staff Sgt. Tony Schroeder, a member of Bellville’s platoon, was one of the participants who dressed in full uniform.
“I was a little sore the next day, but it wasn’t too difficult,” Schroeder said. “It was comparable (to what I have done in training). I kept a good pace up, but I was definitely covered in sweat by the end of it.”
Schroeder was accompanied by his brother-in-law, mother-in-law, wife and 3-year-old son, who was pulled in a wagon.
“The best part was the support — seeing not just people in uniform, but friends, family and people in general supporting the program,” Schroeder said.
The Wounded Warrior Project aims to to aid those who have suffered battlefield injuries, visible or invisible, and help them reintegrate to civilian life.
The organization hits close to home for many participants, such as Schroeder, whose good friend committed suicide after returning from a 2009 deployment to Iraq.
It’s also important to Spc. Joshua Gearing, of whose unit Bellville is platoon sergeant, who said he wanted to participate because he has experienced the Wounded Warrior Project firsthand. Gearing was wounded in combat overseas and received aid from the organization in Germany before returning to the United States.
“[Wounded Warrior] gave me a phone card to let my family know I was fine. When the government calls them, they just say, ‘Your son has been injured. We will have more information to follow,’ so your family is freaking out,” Gearing said. “When someone helps you out and lets you call your family and assure them, right there it is worth it to participate. … When you feel cut off and alone, it’s nice to have people that help you.”
Kertesz, whose son and nephew also serve in the Army National Guard, said she’s getting excited for this year’s walk.
“The City of Maumee and Perrysburg and Fort Meigs have been very helpful in allowing this march,” Kertesz said. “I’m just very, very happy about the reception I’ve been getting about this march. Everyone’s been very excited. This is a very patriotic area in our country. People are really after supporting our soldiers.
“I’m doing this for Tim and he will be back next year to be the heart and soul of it.”
More information is available at facebook.com/WalkWithTheSoldierMemorialRoadMarch.