The ground was frozen but the campfire crackled with heat as competitors and spectators gathered in the early morning dawn for the 4th annual Ruck and Run in Republic, Missouri, November 10, 2018.
Sgt. 1st Class George Fuller, a drill sergeant with Bravo company, 1- 354th Regiment, 95th Training Division (IET) currently on orders in Washington D.C. as the Army liaison for combat and non combat injured from overseas, Is the creator, organizer and race director for this annual event.
Fuller found himself increasingly concerned with the commercialization of Veterans day and Memorial day as well as the loss of honor and respect he perceived.
“If the first thing that comes to people’s mind is ‘let’s go to a sale’ and not ‘let’s honor our Veteran’s’ then there is a problem in our culture,” said Fuller.
Fuller went on to explain that even though we aren’t actively protesting Veterans returning from overseas, the culture ignorance seen during and after Vietnam seemed to be recurring today as the holiday weekends became excuses for sales and barbecues, not times of honor.
“Veteran’s day is always 11-11. It doesn’t change,” said Fuller and he began evaluating how he could shift culture.
Fuller began brainstorming on ways to create an event that combined the comradery of the town he lived in with the honor he felt each Veteran was due. “How do we connect everyone together?” became his focus.
Finally hitting upon the idea of creating a local race that honored Veterans, Fuller threw himself full force into the project and hasn’t looked back.
“I had never been a race director before,” Fuller mused. “I thought it was all about getting safety vests and cones.” He soon discovered there was a lot more involved, including timing companies, signs, volunteers… he says he didn’t think about any of that.
The wheels starting turning, slowly at first, but by 2015 he had bought an internet domain, designed shirts, logos, courses, and built an honor wall. With 30 days between the day he came “off the trail” from Drill Sergeant duty and the day of the event, Fuller had 160 people signed up for the inaugural event and 150 names on the Honor Wall.
“I just wanted to get the community together. I just wanted to see Veterans honored,” he says.
Now in it’s 4th year, the event has nearly 300 participants. More were expected to have signed up on the day of the race, but with temperatures hovering near zero the “day of” registrations were lower than expected.
Despite the chill, those who showed for the race were enthusiastic about the course, a 5.56 or 7.62k route – even the distances have a military twist – with an exercise station and service flag at each kilometer along the routes.
Cadet Nicholas Hutchinson, who is also an enlisted member (PV2) of the Missouri National Guard, chose this event based on the challenge provided by the of the distance of the run coupled with the weight of his ruck as well as the tie to Soldiers who had gone before him.
“It feels good to remember the Veterans we have lost and who have sacrificed their lives so that we can come together and do an event like this and honor their sacrifice,” said Hutchinson.
Army Captain CPT Rob Kelley, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, came to the event to evaluate it as a future opportunity for Soldiers and Drill Sergeants under his command. He was enthusiastic about what the event what it stood for. “Anything that helps spouses as well as Servicemembers is great in my book,” he said. “Anything that helps Veterans after their service as well.”
One of the favorite parts of the weekend for participants is the honor wall. Initially created in 2015, the wall has grown to hold 228 names as participants choose whom they want to honor.
Paula Thompson drove down from Springfield to participate with her sisters for a second year.
“We do 5Ks all year long so when we saw this one and then it had the obstacles and stuff in it we thought ‘well that’s a new challenge’ and we have Veterans in our family so we just thought, ‘well we’re going to do this’ and we do it for my dad who passed away last year,” Thompson explained. Her father’s name was on the wall for the second year and the family was headed over to pose for photos and reminisce.
“I think it’s great… I think this is a good tradition” said Thompson. “I think that it does draw a lot of people that are military currently, and past and it’s great for the families, a way to get involved with the military.”
Ruck and Run not only impacts those who participate, there is also a significant impact on the local community with $4500 and 1724 pounds donated to local non-profit Veteran organizations.
According to Kippie Kutz, director of development for Kitchen Incorporated, a local non-profit group assisting homeless and at risk Veterans, the impact from Ruck and Run is life changing.
“All the food that is collected here goes to Veterans” Kutz verifies. “The food that we collect here at this one event will help us for six months provide food for homeless and hungry Veterans. We can’t do what we do without community support so this is huge.”
Fuller is not one to look around and admire what he has accomplished, but realizes that the level of expectation in an event like this, one tied to the Veteran community, is so much higher than that of any other weekend race you could choose.
“I don’t want to get in my own way, this is bigger than me,” he acknowledges.
For him, it’s not even about the logistics, the planning, the designs, the details. It’s about the people.
“I think my greatest success is right at the end… really what some of the biggest accomplishments is at the end of the race, at the end of the event, getting to talk with everybody and hearing how this has impacted their life and also enabling them to honor Veterans,” he explains with satisfaction coloring his voice.
The time commitment to pull off the event is likened to a part time job, with Fuller estimating that he spends approximately 20 per week working out logistics, arranging entertainment, securing permits, and dealing with the issues involved in running a non-profit organization.
“It’s not just something that I have talked about, it’s something that I’m doing,” he says. “It takes way more than I ever anticipated to do this event.”
Fuller will “go dark” for a few weeks to recover from this year’s event and will then return to the plans for next year and the 5th anniversary of the Ruck and Run. The Blackhawk fly in from this year will be hard to top but he muses over the possibility of a Chinook, or maybe he will “go with the Golden Knights.”
As he looks forward to bigger and better, Fuller remains focused solely on his mission to return the focus of the weekend to honor Veterans, and to encourage others to do the same.
“Challenge yourself to make a difference,” says Fuller. “Instead of complaining that Veteran’s Day is over commercialized, flip it and see how you can make a difference.”
“I just hope that my heart shows” he concludes.