It should be no surprise that Veterans’ Day was celebrated at Vandenberg Air Force Base, but the manner in which it was done this year went far beyond the typical parades and speeches by dignitaries.
Beginning on October 20 and concluding on November 11, the base held Run to Remember, a commemorative run in which Vandenberg’s airmen and members of the public hoofed it to honor service members who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. While paying homage to those who served in the past, the event’s organizers wanted to pay special tribute to the current generation of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen serving in combat by raising money for those who have returned home with disabilities.
During the run, participants carried cards with the names and pictures of service members who died in the line of duty, donating money to veteran-related charities through the Combined Federal Campaign. Much of the money collected went to the Wounded Warriors Project and Disabled American Veterans, said Senior Master Sergeant Cynthia O’Byrne. According to Vandenberg’s public affairs office, at least one mile-long run was completed for each of the nearly 4,800 deaths of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Area resident Erich Gross, 63, donated 17 miles to the event, raising $1,500.
An example fresh in the minds of most Santa Barbara County residents is Edward “Kyle” Van Tassel, the Iraq veteran who held up traffic on Highway 101 on November 3 as he waved an unloaded revolver in the air. “We have so many wounded coming home, we don’t even know their problems yet,” said O’Byrne, the 614th Air Operations Center intelligence reconnaissance division superintendent and one of the event’s organizers.
With runs being donated Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m., the running occurred for 24 hours on the final day, culminating in a one-mile formation run near base headquarters. O’Byrne said she appreciated the enthusiastic participation and high turnout the event enjoyed during the entirety of its 17 days. Despite the fact that Veterans’ Day was a federal holiday and there was much celebrating to be done, a couple hundred airmen and supporters showed up for the final formation run and closing ceremony. “We hope to make this an event at bases everywhere,” she said. “We want to help returning veterans so they can take care of their own families.”
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Grubbs, the chaplain who said a few words during the ceremony, said he was taking a moment to remember Master Sergeant Andy Andrews. Grubbs was with Andrews – the first fatality after September 11 – when he died. “This is a bit of a personal moment for me to remember Andy and all those who served,” he said. “There are a lot of sacrifices made by those who didn’t die, too, as well as by the friends and families of service members.”
“My hope is that this Run to Remember makes us remember that freedom is never free,” said Lieutenant General William Shelton, commander of the 14th Air Force and the first one to run when the event started last month.