BUFORD, GA - Driving down Holiday Road, leading into the Lake Lanier Island Resorts, if there was any thought an event honoring service members was going on this past weekend, small memorial crosses bearing the names of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, complimented by American flags, led to the starting point of the Operation One Voice Warrior Challenge 2012.
Four Marines with the United States Marine Corps Special Operations Command, led by Maj. Gen. Mark A. Clark, incoming MARSOC commanding general, knew they were in the right place after they teamed up Aug. 18, to participate in the challenge.
The challenge, a 5K obstacle course involving hills, climbing walls, marksmanship, hills, mud crawls, running along a beach and more hills, was open to military and police teams, as well as civilians. The race began with an Army Ranger unit based out of Fort Benning, Ga., followed by the MARSOC team and many law enforcement agencies.
The event, put on by Operation One Voice founder Bill Stevens, is many of a long list of events the organization has created to bring awareness for families of fallen and wounded service members in the Special Operation Forces community. What began as an effort to recognize the SOF with challenge coins at Fort Bragg, N.C., in November 2003, turned into something greater, something Stevens could have never imagined. They do things, such as paying for families’ college expenses and providing hand-wheeled bicycles for double amputees.
“After the 9/11 attacks, I designed a commemorative coin and distributed them to each member in the Duluth (Ga.) Police Department in memory of those who lost their lives that day,” said Stevens, 18-year police veteran, who also retired from the city’s fire services in 2006. “Eventually, the media got a hold of what we were doing and we started donating these coins to the military’s special forces community and, from there, it got really big.”
Later on, Stevens and his Duluth Police Department partnered with retired Army Sergeant First Class Dana Bowman, who donated hundreds of coins to wounded soldiers at the- Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and what is now the National Medical Center Bethesda.
The program evolved and, in 2004, the focus expanded to help children of fallen special operatives.
Clark, who is a fierce advocate of this program, spent the past few years working with the organization. He recently served with the United States Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., where he got to know the Care Coalition, USSOCOM’s entity dedicated to providing special operational readiness while enhancing the quality of life of family members.
“The Care Coalition is a great program that works,” Clark said. “We are here today to make sure this program continues.”
The race was about brotherhood. The Army Ranger unit, donning flak jackets with SAPI (Small Arms Protective Insert) plates, rifle magazines and their uniforms, raced in memory of their recently fallen brothers. The MARSOC Marines eventually took the lead, and, before crossing the finish line, turned around to finish with the Rangers together.
The MARSOC Marines took first place for the military team run, but it wasn’t about competition – it was about solidarity.
“Today wasn’t about winning, it was about a cause,” said Col. Archibald McLellan, assistant chief of staff, MARSOC.
The ceremony concluded with awards presentations, highlighting team and individual winners. Clark went on to congratulate those who attended. He made sure to mention it’s not just the military sacrificing.
“Today, we come to support a cause for those who sacrifice so much for what they believe in,” said Clark. “We also have police officers and fire fighters who are out there each and every day, putting their lives on the line.”
Operation One Voice will conduct a bike ride, called the “Honor Ride” Sept. 8, along with a myriad of events in the near future, as they intend their cause to spread as much as possible.