MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. --
Marines commonly run for a variety of reasons, mainly to stay in shape, which is mission essential. However, Monday was a little different because this time, they were running through the streets of Albany, Ga., to honor one of their own.
A team of 21 Marines from across various commands aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga., joined forces with the runners that make up Operation One Voice, to honor a wounded Marine.
Duluth Police Lieutenant Bill Stevens is the chief executive officer and founder of OOV and said this the sixth year that a group of police officers, firefighters and special operations forces members have run from Atlanta to Tampa, Fla., to honor a different branch of the armed forces and a wounded service member.
“This year we are honoring the Marine Corps Special Operations Command and Master Sergeant Eden Pearl, who, on his birthday in 2009, was severely injured in Afghanistan,” Stevens said. “He is one of the most severely wounded service members since 9/11 and we wanted to honor him and the Marine Corps for all they do.”
Pearl is currently at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas.
Information posted online at www.wilsoncountynews.com reads, a blast from an improvised explosive device severely wounded the 34-year-old Marine.
Pearl was reported to be sitting near or over the gas tank, which was engulfed in flames and burned his entire body. He lost both legs, an arm just below the elbow and has had four fingers of the remaining hand surgically removed.
Michelle Strickland, safe communities coordinator, said OOV has been around since 9/11 and the runners run 24 hours a day from Duluth, Ga., to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, a total of 558 miles, arriving on Veterans Day.
“Bill started this (OOV) as a local event to teach his son and community about patriotism,” Strickland said. “It has grown into a national program that is supported by the Pentagon and Department of Defense. This is the sixth year of the run and each year, local Marines from the base come out to support our efforts by escorting the runners through Albany to the Veterans Park Amphitheater.”
According to the Web site, www.duluthpd.com/community/operation-one-voice/, Operation One Voice is a not-for-profit program designed by police officers, firefighters and community leaders to raise funds to help support the immediate needs of children and families of fallen and wounded Special Operations Forces.
“We have donated more than $400,000 dollars to approximately 800 families in special operations communities since we started. If a family member is falling through the cracks and needs help, we are here to fill the crack,” Stevens said. “Our jobs make us flexible enough to do what police and firemen have been doing for years - stand in the gap.”
Strickland said each year the run ends here with a ceremony and a proclamation from the mayor. The runners are then sent back on the road so they can arrive at MacDill AFB by November 11, which is Veterans Day.
“It gets a little lonely and a little cold out there running at night and we get a little tired, but when we can get Marines and other service members to run with us, we remember why we’re out there and it’s all worth it,” Stevens said.
Lance Cpl. Anthony Vagnini, supply administration clerk, Marine Corps Logistics Command, said he volunteered to run because he thought it was appropriate to support the community and honor our legacy - veterans.
“It’s important to let those being honored know they are not forgotten. I was not aware that I was running in honor of a wounded Marine and it makes me even more proud to be out here today,” Vagnini said.
One Marine who served with Pearl said he volunteered because even though he supported the efforts of OOV, it was personal.
“The run is for a good cause and I wanted to support it, but this time it was personal because I served with Master Sergeant Pearl and have know him for quite some time,” said Master Sgt. Robert Ortega, S-3 noncommissioned officer-in-charge, 2nd Marine Special Operations Command, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. “I’m running this year for my friend.”