The last time you heard from me was the day AFTER the Midway Route completed our annual Mission. At that time, I promised you a “wrap up” of all our “adventures.” But then I got very sick. In fact, I contracted Covid! I rested in DC for two days before riding to Cookeville, where I rested another two days. At that point, I knew that I could not ride any more, so I called out for help. The last 500 miles of my trip home were a blur, as I sat in the back seat of my truck while trailering my motorcycle back home. It would be almost three more weeks before I felt “normal” again.
And then ”life” resumed. There were church obligations, client work, photos to edit, family visits, and just general “stuff” that makes life worthwhile. And I never got around to writing that “wrap up.”
Well today, I am sitting in my living room with my little boy puppy at my side. My wife is on the other couch with our little girl puppy. We have just finished going through the thousands of photos that I took during Run For The Wall, and I have been telling all sorts of stories and anecdotes from our Mission. And it made me wonder: What was it all about?
WE all know our Mission Statement, and it condenses to “We ride for those that can’t.” To this end, RFTW has created FOUR Routes: three of which are primarily for our Vietnam Veterans and Families, and the newest route, The SandBox, which is aimed to wards our newest Veterans. Our goal with each of these Routes is to provide emotional healing for the Veterans, Family Members, Patriots, and Participants of Run For The Wall, along with all of the thousands of public that we encounter each and every day.
And the Midway Route did this so well in 2022!
This was not an easy year for the Midway Route. With our two-year hiatus, we lost several key and crucial contacts with our supporters. We had to reestablish these connections “on the fly.” Our State and Local coordinators did not let us down! They stood up, did the extra last-minute work, and made our presence in the communities something that BOTH sides could be proud of.
We had to prove (again) to Law Enforcement Agencies across the Nation that we DO know what we are doing, and that we can do it safely. Thanks to our Road Guard Captain and his incredible Team, our reputation is not just “intact” but has been bolstered to the point of professionalism. Our relationship with some of these agencies has even become that of “friends.” (When the Sergeant of the North Carolina State Police asks me to “Ride really fast and catch up” so I can get a specific picture of their escort, you know that we are more than just a business relationship!)
Our fund-raising committees did an absolutely AMAZING job of supporting us. Each Rider’s out-of-pocket expense during the Run was so minimal as to almost be negligible. I don’t know how they did it, but it was REALLY appreciated. Especially when you consider what happened to prices (for everything!) right before we started riding. Not only were most costs covered for the Riders, but we were still able to give out scholarships at two schools and help some of our local supporters cover THEIR costs. We had 50/50 raffles everyday with some pretty good payouts! We had so many raffle items donated that almost every Rider could have gone home with “something.” You guys did an awesome job!
Our Outreach Coordinator did several wonderful jobs, most of which our Riders know nothing, or very little, about. The most obvious was the daily reading of a lost Heroes biography. These aren’t just random names that are chosen, but each one has been researched and “prioritized” as to when and where they will have the most emotional impact when read. (They ALL have importance, but some have direct connections with what we are doing each day.) The other more visible “jobs” were the “dignified transfer ceremony” for a flag that was carried across our country by volunteer Riders. Four times each day, this “simple” ceremony was conducted with reverence and solemnity. I was able to witness several of these events, and I could feel the respect and honor of each participant. You could see it in their eyes!
These flag transfers took place at the Missing Man Formation as often as possible. Our Missing Man Coordinator was doing double duty this year. Not only was she organizing the Riders so that EVERY leg of the Mission had a Missing Man Escort, but she was also in charge of our special Missing Man Biography Banner. This banner is laid on the ground in the position of the Missing Man. It has a sleeve where the Escort Rider may put a biography, photo, name, or small memento so that everyone that walked by would know WHO our honored Missing Man is. That Honoree’s name would also be written in chalk on the road, so that for weeks after we had departed, people could still “read a name.” Hopefully, that name will make them stop and ask questions.
Our Fuel Team and Advance Team are true unsung and seemingly “invisible” heroes! They are always out in front of the pack, and they are always working when we arrive. They eat fast and leave before everyone else. They are like “ghosts.” But because they do not ride WITH the pack, they often do not get to see and enjoy the “parade” we present when we arrive in a town. Instead, they are often the ones that are welcoming US, even while they are working. Only a couple of times during our Mission were they “with us” as we arrived. I just hope that they all know how much we truly appreciate all of their hard work!
There is a Finance Team that pays for the fuel, a Logistics Coordinator that makes sure all of our awards of Thanks for our supporters is on hand, an Honor Guard Coordinator, a Platoon Coordinator, a Merchandising Team, a Registration Team, and our Ambassadors. There are so MANY people that make this Mission possible that I just can’t name them all.
This year, our Chaplains and Medical Corps got a real workout. We can all see the “physical presence” of these two teams. They were there keeping a watchful eye over us, even when we don’t think they were watching! In addition to their daily care, keeping us spiritually fit and physically hydrated, they were on standby for any emergency. And on one day, they had to work overtime. While no RFTW Participant was hurt during our Mission this year, we WERE witness to a devastating event in Arkansas. One of our local supporters had a sudden cardiac arrest right after we were served lunch. Our Chief Medic (“Chief”) was there in a split second to start administering CPR, while our Chaplains began comforting the Riders that witnessed this event. Their professionalism was surpassed only by their compassion. Everything was handled with care and concern for ALL of the people there. Having survived a cardiac arrest myself, I can only thank our Chaplains and Medics for the way that they handled not only their patient, but our Riders and supporters. God held their hands, while they held ours.
And then there were the Riders themselves. We had everything from our seasoned RFTW veteran Riders, to some brand new FNGs! And a couple of these Riders were TRULY brand new, having only ridden motorcycles for a few months prior to our Mission. (They did fantastic!) We had a couple of Gentlemen join us from Canada, where they have their own cross-country Mission called the “Rolling Barrage.” I saw so many smiling faces from our Riders each morning that I was SURE would fade before lunch time. Boy, was I wrong! Those smiles only got bigger as the day progressed. A few of our Riders weren’t too keen on being hugged so much on Day One. By Day 10, they were leading the “Hug Brigade!” I saw rider skills develop at an incredibly fast pace, even for our Road Guards. (And Man, can they RIDE!) Our Midway Route Riders carried themselves with dignity and respect at all times, and showed honor everywhere they went. I was SO proud of them, and honored that they would let me walk among them.
As you can tell, there were a LOT of things going on during our “ten day Mission.”
The responsibility and accountability for all of this rested squarely on the shoulders of our Route Coordinator. Ken “Six String” Dugas not only stepped up and volunteered for this role, he excelled at it. Because of his Leadership, Role-Model, and Friendship, the 2022 RFTW Midway Route Mission was a total success! He was able to “adapt and overcome” each obstacle with grace, style, and a little humor. He made all of the hard work look effortless. Thank You, Six String, for ALL that you have done!
I have been a part of Run For The Wall for eight years now. I have enjoyed (almost) every minute of that time, and look forward to many more years of service, in whatever role that I am needed or wanted. I know that my association with RFTW has made me a better Man and Patriot. So I urge each and every one of YOU to volunteer, even if you don’t think you have the skills needed. We can find a place for you, just like they found a place for me. You won’t regret it, as the benefits and honor far out way the hard work.
And NOW, with that very lengthy “wrap up” of our 2022 Mission, I have to get back to my original question: WHAT WAS IT ALL ABOUT?
And THAT is the million dollar question, because the answer lies within YOU. I know what we say we are going to do, and we did it. But that was for ten days. There are a lot more days during the year that are unaccounted for! It is my hope that each of you will carry on with the RFTW “spirit.”
Spend some time each day giving honor and respect to our Veterans. It isn’t hard. Start by saying “Thanks for your Service” to that old guy with the Veterans cap on. Do the same thing for our Police and Fire Fighters!
Stand up whenever you hear our National Anthem, and say the Pledge of Allegiance! Place your hand over your heart or give a hand salute, whichever is appropriate for you. Do this in public! And take the time to explain WHY you are doing this to those that don’t understand, especially the young children. Do your part to educate our next generation of Patriots. You have heard me say it before and I repeat it now: I don’t like kids. But I WILL do what I can to help them learn about the sacrifices that our Veterans and their Families have made for our Freedom.
Take the time to replace a tattered American Flag that you may see flying somewhere. I know several people that keep a “spare” flag with them at all times. I have NEVER known one of them to be turned down when they explain that they would like to replace and retire a worn out flag.
Go visit a Veterans Home or hospital. Shake the hand of a hero, and listen to his stories. Learn from him, about the cost of Freedom.
Fly and display a POW-MIA flag! JUST DO IT! Tell everyone that you meet about our Missing in Action. Let them know that for every one of them, there is a Mother and Father that want them to come home. There are brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grand-parents, and friends that wonder “what happened?” And when you meet a Wife or child of one of our MIA, give them a hug and let them know that their loved one is NOT forgotten.
Wear a POW-MIA bracelet. Show it and explain it to EVERYONE! Don’t even take it off to go through an airport x-ray machine. (Except under extreme protest!) Use that bracelet to make people think about our POWs.
These are all things that we do as part of Run For The Wall during our ten-day Mission.
THAT IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!
It has been my extreme honor to chronicle YOUR Midway Route experience. I hope that through my photos and poor attempt at writing that I have been able to convey the stories and events that you would want people to know. Your faith and trust in me to do this is something that I think about all the time. I have tried to keep that faith and trust, and to honor YOU the way that you have honored ME.
Jim “Hoofer” McCrain
Photographer and SITREP Author
Midway Route 2022