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Day Seven.  Cookeville, Tennessee.  ZERO official miles!

I have NO idea how to describe today!  But I will give it a shot.

First, Cookeville!  WOW!  This is the Midway Route’s “Home Away From Home.”  The entire City welcomes us here each year with parades, food, hugs, cheers, speeches, waving flags, flashing lights, and true southern hospitality.  These are all adjectives that I have used to describe all of our other stops this year.  But in Cookeville, they all get turned up to eleven!  They go overboard in greeting and taking care of us.  I just can’t say enough good things about the City of Cookeville!  You NEED to come experience it for yourself.

The Midway Route is trying something a little different this year for RFTW.  We are having a “slow-down day” or as I prefer to call it, an “outreach day.”  Let me try to explain it.

By this time of the Run, most Riders have been on the road for about 10-12 days.  We NEED to do some laundry, get our bikes worked on, repack and reorganize our “stuff”, and for some of us, rest.  To accomplish all of this, our Leadership Team decided to spend two nights in Cookeville instead of one.  But instead of just stopping here and doing nothing, we would create several outreach opportunities for the Riders.  These are all optional.  If a Rider doesn’t want to go anywhere, they don’t have to.  But for those that do, there are some choices.

In fact, there are THREE choices.  We have outreach programs going to VA Hospitals and homes, National Cemeteries, and special monuments.  To make sure that everyone gets a chance to participate, we invite all of those Rides pulling a trailer to drop them at the Host Hotel and ride without them for a day.  (Trailers are rarely allowed on outreach missions, for parking logistics and pack safety.)  Our service platoons, such as the Staging, Fuel, and Advance Teams are always so busy that they never get to go on an outreach program.  The do today!  We will have a minimal staging crew just to get us started, the Riders are on their own for fuel today, and since we aren’t moving, the Advance Team can take the day off!  It is a “win/win” situation for all of the Riders AND we get to spend more time in this incredible community.

But it causes one small problem for your Photographer and SITREP Author.  There are THREE outreach programs today, each of which is happening at the same time, in locations about 75 miles apart from each other.  So what am I to do?  How can I document each of them?  How do I tell the stories that are happening?  The answer is: I can’t.  Fear Not!  I have asked for the Riders to send me any photos that they take so that I can share them with you.  I have specific people taking notes at each outreach, so that I can tell you what is happening today.  We WILL get the stories published to you, but it may take a few days.  So this SITREP, Day Seven, is actually Day Seven “A”.  Part “B” will be posted later.

SO I am going to take the time to talk about HOW the Midway Route operates and WHO is doing what.

At the top of the list is our Route Coordinator, or RC, Jerry “Corp” Wilkins.  Jerry is our Man In Charge.  He makes all of the final decisions and takes responsibility for all of our actions.  It is a heavy burden, but Jerry stepped up and assumed the command.  He is doing an incredible job, and has earned the respect of every person associated with the Midway Route.  And that is a fete that is not easily accomplished.  Remember that most of our Riders are former Military personelle.  They are used to taking orders from their Officers.  Jerry is a Civilian!  Yet he has assumed the role of Commander, and no one questions his authority.  That is one of the wonders of the Run For The Wall Mission.  We respect our leaders and volunteers.  They have earned that respect by “stepping up” when others didn’t.  Jerry Wilkins, I told you several years ago that I would help you out, and I stand by that promise.  It has been an honor to work with you.  You have done a great job, Sir!

Next in line is our Assistant Route Coordinator.  Don “10-a-See” King.  Don is the second-in-command and assumes the responsibility of leader when the RC is not available.  Don is also our Tennessee State Coordinator, so he is responsible for all of the wonderful stops and activities that we are having in this great State.  He shares the same level of responsibilities as the RC, and can use this year as “training.”  The Assistant Route Coordinator generally becomes the RC the following year.  “10-a-See”, I hope you are taking notes!

The man in charge of our safety is Leo “Rucksack” Rachmel.  He is the Man IN Charge of our incredible Road Guards.  The Road Guards keep us safe from traffic along our entire route.  They work with local Law Enforcement Officers to control the flow of traffic around us, and also to control OUR impact on the regions we travel through.  The Midway Route can stretch several miles long while rolling down the highway, and that can really make it tough for the locals to conduct their routine business.  Our Road Guards are instrumental in keeping everything “rolling along.”  Leo is also tasked with making sure we physically stay on our route.  He has to know all of the road conditions ahead of us, keep an eye on the weather, and have contingency plans in case ANY element changes.  It is a TOUGH job, and Leo is doing it admirably.

We have an entire Leadership Support Team that consists of Honor Guards, Platoon Coordinators, Hotel Coordinators, Finance Teams, Risk Management Officers, Social Media Directors, Public Affairs Officers, Promotions Teams, ASL Sign Language Interpreters, and a Photographer and SITREP Author.  We have a Registration Team that keeps all of the paperwork in order for each and every Rider.  (They know who you are!)  We even have a Merchandise Team!  (Want to buy an RFTW shirt or cap?  They can sell you one!)

There is an Outreach Team that has set up all of our programs that “reach out” to the communities we pass through, providing moral support and encouragement to Veterans and MIA/POW Families.  (The Outreach Team has one of the most emotionally difficult jobs of the entire Mission, as they are the ones that actually meet and get to know the very people we are trying to support.)  We have an Ambassadors Tram that head out in front of the Pack to visit with people on overpasses, by the side of the road, at fuel stops, and anywhere else that they see people who are eager to support us.  The Ambassadors are our “boots on the ground” Team that meet with the general public on a daily basis.  (I call what they do “ambassing.”  Again, not a real word, just something that I made up!)

On the “heavier” side of things, we have a Chaplain Corp.  These Men and Women are here to attend to  our spiritual and emotional needs.  I don[t know how we would get along without them!  It’s not just “religion” that they attend to, but any support that a rider may need.  Feeling a little blue today?  Talk to a Chaplain.  Need some advise on how to deal with your daily pressures?  Talk to a Chaplain.  Need something that you forgot at home?  Talk to a Chaplain.  They will help get you sorted out!  I LOVE our Chaplains.  They are the kindest, most generous, and genuinely friendly people that you will ever meet!

It’s not just your soul they want to save, though.  They also run our hydration and snack trailer.  They keep us supplied with cool beverages and food to keep us physically going down the road.  (Thank you, Mission M25, for your incredible service to our Riders!)  Our Chaplains also operate our Chase Vehicles.  If someone has a bike breakdown during the Run, the Chase Vehicles will stop, load the bike on a trailer, and take it to the next stop.  We don’t leave anyone stranded on the side of the road!

One more thing that the Chaplains do is work directly with our Medical Corp.  (Some of our Chaplains are actual Medics!)  The Medics will look after any cuts, scrapes, bruises, minor illnesses, or other physical problems.  They are on-call 24/7.  No matter the weather, you will always find the Medics walking around with full field-trauma kits strapped to them, ready for any emergency, great or small.  I hope you never have to use their services, but if you do, you will be in GREAT hands!  (They are also really nice Guys and Gals to talk to.  Don’t be shy.  Come on up and visit them!)

I just can’t tell you how many people it takes to organize and run something an event as massive as Run For The Wall.  There are over a hundred volunteers that make it all look seamless and easy.  From the Advance Team to the Staging Team, to the Fuel Team and the individual Platoon Leaders, these people work around the clock so that we can accomplish our Mission.  Before we even hit the road, we have a State coordinator that is in charge of everything that happens in their respective State as we pass through.  And we pass through ten States!  I know that I am leaving a lot of people and positions out, and I am sorry.  It is a huge undertaking to make Run For The Wall happen each year, and we DO start making plans for the next year even before we are through with THIS year.

All so that we can fulfill our Mission statement, which is: “To promote healing among ALL veterans and their families and friends, to call for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action (POW/MIA), to honor the memory of those Killed in Action (KIA) from all wars, and to support our military personnel all over the world.”

“We strive to maintain a safe, supportive and private atmosphere in which all participants can reflect and heal on their journey to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois in the hope they can return home to a new beginning.“

Our Goals are: to guide the participants safely across America, and to educate future generations on the importance of accountability in wartime actions, emphasizing that no one should be left behind.

This evening, at a special dinner hosted by the City of Cookeville, Tennessee, the Midway Route of Run For The Wall presented Tennessee State flags to twelve Gold Star Families.

This is Run For The Wall.  This is what we do.

Jim Hoofer” McCrain
Midway Route Photographer and SITREP Author

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