A journey that began at the Battle Born Memorial in Carson City came to an end with the help of UNLV student veterans some at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City on Memorial Day — all in honor of the fallen heroes since the Global War on Terrorism began on September 11, 2001.
Over the course of 10 days, veterans and volunteers carried nearly 7,000 dog tags of those fallen service members, including 58 Nevadans, across for more than 370 miles.
Among them was Ross Bryant, executive director of UNLV’s Military & Veteran Services Center. I frequently work with his team and wanted to walk to show them support.
Ross told me, "I lost two soldiers in my service to unexpected accidents and my brother died serving in Korea. He was 21 and would be 59 today. Having time to walk, experience a little bit of pain, connect with others honoring the fallen, and connecting with the community has been very healing for me."
Thirty-six teams of four or more walked in 10-mile increments and covered approximately 70 miles each day. While walking, four members of each team carried a 30-pound rucksack filled with the dog tags. The participants may have been challenged physically by unexpected wind and rain but they were also challenged emotionally as they carried the weight of fallen heroes on their backs.
Our leg of the walk was just outside of Beatty and it brought us together with other community members, including Jelani Hale, a former Navy SEAL who now works as executive director of culture and diversity at Wynn Resorts. He brought his 9-year-old daughter.
“My daughter, Jet, and I walked yesterday to honor some of my military friends who passed away recently: Dave Metcalf and Shannon Kent,” Hale said. “Dave was a good friend of mine when I served in the military and he took his own life on New Year’s Day this year. Shannon was another close friend who was killed by a suicide bomber in Syria this past January. So sad.
“I wanted my daughter to understand the meaning of Memorial Day. I don’t want her to grow up thinking that Memorial Day is only about barbecues and pool parties.”
My dad, Randy Schroeder, is not a Veteran but wanted to walk to pay tribute any way he could. “Both of my sons served in the U.S. Navy — one as a Beachmaster and the other a Seabee. Both returned home safely. I walked to remember and honor those who did not with their families in mind,” he said.
During a 10-mile walk, you can learn a lot about someone when they share their experiences. This had a profound effect on me as a civilian to hear their military experiences, particularly their losses. From someone I just met, someone I’ve known for a few years, and someone I’ve known nearly my whole life, I appreciated hearing their stories.
I carried one of the rucksacks during a leg, and with that weight and that distance, you definitely feel it after a while. But then, you start to remember why you are out there and who you are with. The weight of a 30-pound rucksack is insignificant in comparison to it all.
This event was sponsored by Wynn Resorts, Caesars Entertainment SALUTE, and the VFW Post 12101.