Tales from the Old Glory trails

Sep 14, 2015

 

The second annual Old Glory Relay, conducted by Team Red, White, and Blue (Team RWB) and presented by Microsoft, kicked off at sunrise on Sept. 11 in San Francisco. As the sun crested the horizon, Old Glory began its 60-day, 3,540-mile journey across the country, ending in Washington, D.C., at sunset on Nov. 8.

Follow along as Microsoft runners and volunteers share their experiences helping carry Old Glory across the nation:

Days 1–2 San Francisco to Fairfield, California Sean Kelley, program director for Military Affairs at Microsoft 27 miles
Days 24–25 Colorado Brandon Young, director of development for Team RWB 17 miles
Day 29 Colorado Springs, Colo., to Punkin Center, Colo. Matt Holzmann, senior technical account manager at Microsoft 11 miles
Day 43 Black Walnut, MIssouri Ryan Zoeller, senior premier field engineer at Microsoft 7 miles
Day 50 Frankfort, Kentucky to Lexington, Kentucky Dan Fain, security and identity architect for DoD at Microsoft 5 miles

 

Day 50: Frankfort, Kentucky to Lexington, Kentucky

Dan Fain, security and identity architect for DoD at Microsoft

Oct. 30

Total miles: 35

My miles: 5

Day 50:

Being involved with the Old Glory Relay was absolutely amazing, and a bit overwhelming at the same time. Going back to my home town brought back so many memories of my youth. To me, the bluegrass of Kentucky is the most beautiful place on earth. The horses running in the fields, the curved fences of the horse farms, the Black Angus cattle grazing on the pasture and the tobacco hanging in the barn all mean Kentucky to me. More importantly, Kentucky is about tradition and pride. We love our basketball, our bourbon and our country.

In particular, visiting the VA hospitals where my father spent so much time was extremely emotional for me. My father was a disabled veteran who spent countless hours at the VA hospitals on Cooper Drive and on Leestown Road in Kentucky. The staff at both facilities always treated him with such respect. The last stop of the day was at the VA on Leestown Road and I got to carry the flag onto the grounds. As we entered the familiar grounds, my heart rate began to increase. As a disabled veteran myself, I did not know what to expect as we walked around the backside of the grounds and entered the courtyard.

When we made the turn I could see the veterans out on the courtyard — they were there to welcome us and to pay respect to the flag they so dearly love. Some were standing and some were in wheelchairs. The staff helped those who needed it. To our left on the terrace were some veterans who were not able to make it down to the courtyard. We decided to alter the route and take the flag to them; how could we do anything else? The look on their faces as we approached was priceless. They all thanked us for our service, and it was very humbling. Those who had given so much thanked us. I’ll be honest, that got to me. I should be thanking them.

This event, this simple act of carrying a flag across the country, spoke to me. It renewed my sense of purpose. It made me determined to find a way to participate next year and in the years to come. It renewed my faith in the American people as I watched those wave and honk their horns in support. Some even passed us so they could get out of their vehicles and cheer us on as we went by. Others saluted, held their hands on their hearts, or just dropped their heads in reverence. Amazing! What a great day to be an American.


 

Day 43: Black Walnut, Missouri

Ryan Zoeller, senior premier field engineer at Microsoft

Oct. 23

Total miles: 43

Miles I ran: 7

Day 43:

As I reflect on the day with Old Glory in St. Louis, I think about the sacrifices of both service members and civilians that have laid everything on the line to protect the freedom we have today. These colors represent our nation’s resolve to get up each morning and fight to defend our country. As we unfurled the flag to start Day 43 in Black Walnut, Missouri, along the Katy Trail, the sun was peeking over the horizon and painted a perfect picture above the heartland of America. For today will be a great day.

Along our run, we heard the sound of roosters crowing at sunrise; the sound of farmers starting their equipment for the day ahead. If we were on a country road, highway or city street, horns could be heard as we passed and pedestrians lined up to cheer us on. The most powerful moment occurred as we passed through Bellefontaine Neighbors, Missouri. The police department flanked opposite our runner and stood at attention, saluting the flag as it passed their position. Looking into the eyes of these officers, it was apparent that this flag had a much deeper meaning today.

Running into the heart of St. Louis and with the Gateway Arch as our backdrop, members of the United States Air Force carried Old Glory into the downtown streets. They ran in formation; a military cadence could be heard from blocks away as they charged ahead. Having served alongside these airmen, I remember the many deployments and the feeling of pride when we saw the colors retired at the end of each day — and I couldn’t help but remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country.

The day was filled with American spirit. It was a day of celebration and remembrance. The city and its people rallied around this event — watching as the flag passed — reflecting, cheering and crying. The Old Glory Relay has a different meaning for each of us. For me it was a day of happiness. I am in awe, humbled and inspired by what was accomplished and the people I met along the way.

The Old Glory Relay has left me with a lasting memory and a new perspective on life.


 

Day 29: Colorado Springs, Colo., to Punkin Center, Colo.

Matt Holzmann, senior technical account manager at Microsoft

Oct. 9

Total miles: 61

Miles I ran: 11

Day 29:

When thinking about the Old Glory Relay, I consistently think about how fortunate I am to feel the sensation of the sun and wind on my face, to feel my feet strike the pavement, and to enjoy the near universal camaraderie of fellow veterans. I’m consistently struck by those thoughts and feelings, because I’m still alive and well enough to experience them fully. I can’t help but think about the thousands of other veterans who gave their lives or sacrificed their health so that we may continue to relish such experiences in relative safety.

Along the run, we saw Pikes Peak, thriving agriculture and innovative alternative energy farms. We ran from the scents of the city into the earthy aromas of rural life. Throughout the trip, we heard the rush of cars and trucks, accentuated by horns sounding their support, along with the regular hum of stiff breezes across the open plains. I was fortunate enough to meet civilian parents running for their USAF son, active duty service members and veterans from every branch of the military.

When you have the honor to run with Old Glory, you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of pride for what our nation’s flag signifies: the individuality of the states (stars) among the union of the country (blue) and the 13 original colonies represented in the red and white stripes, which for me have always symbolized the blood spilled for this country and the bandages of healing following those fights. When I carry the colors, I remember caring for them as the Battalion Color Sergeant for 1st BN, 5th MAR in Afghanistan, I remember our fallen Marines, and I remember the struggles our nation has dependably overcome to remain a beacon of hope across the globe. It fills my heart to be even a small part of such an enormous message.

The 2015 run was my second Old Glory run, is such an inspiring event. Fortunately, I’m left with a full heart every time I run with Old Glory. I’m filled with a renewed sense of pride in America and our citizens.


 

Days 24–25: Colorado

Brandon Young, director of development for Team RWB

Oct. 4–5

Total miles: 105

Miles I ran: 17

Day 26:

The past two days were an incredible and uplifting experience for me. I covered 17 miles of the team’s total 105 miles through Colorado. I’m back in the office today, Oct. 6, watching my wife and 14 other Team RWB Colorado Eagles attack the Old Glory course via social media. Today they climb the continental divide over Monarch Pass (11,312 ft.). As I watch the activity over social media and see photos of the smiling faces of teammates and other Americans on the course, I realize how fortunate I am that, this past weekend, I got to once again carry those colors with a purpose.

Running with an American flag is more than just running with a pole and some colored cloth. As the shadow of Old Glory danced against the canyons of the San Juan and Gunnison National forests, I remembered playing Army in the woods on Mission Peak in Fremont, Calif. I remembered my Uncle Louie, a Vietnam veteran who I never truly got the chance to know. I recall wide eyes and awe at those towering Army recruiters at the station on Mowry and Paseo Padre; I kept coming back year after year until I was finally old enough to join. I remember basic training, ranger indoctrination, the road marches (so many road marches), falling for an Oly-girl outside of Fort Lewis (JBLM) and the war.

I remember being woken up on 9/11, the world on fire. I remember the rotations to Afghanistan, but mostly I remember the boys. The pranks we played on each other, the laughter, the brotherhood. I recall the night we took our first casualty. I remember the sounds of my son being born over a phone. I recall helplessness. I remember rage, but it’s somehow far away and powerless now.

Running side by side with other countrymen during the relay, we talked. I heard stories about fathers who served in Vietnam, I heard dreams about the future from a young student and I heard excitement for new beginnings from a couple that got engaged that very weekend! I shared some miles with a ranger buddy I served with in combat, talked about my daughter’s outdoor movie theater birthday party and waved happily at the “glory honks” from Americans behind speeding windshields. You can almost hear the smiles on their faces when they see America flying strong. What a gift two days on the course gave me, especially at this small personal anniversary of mine today.

Eighteen years ago today, on Oct. 6, I raised my hand and affirmed, “This We’ll Defend” to my country. The journey has been an honor. I am forever changed from my time in the U.S. Army. There are some memories I wish upon no one, but there is an appreciation and a perspective I pray for everyone. Every day is a gift.

It’s really easy to get frustrated; it’s also really easy to live thankful.

Today you have an incredible opportunity to live thankful and lift up your community. Will you seize it?


 

Days 1–2: San Francisco to Fairfield, California

Sean Kelley, program director for Military Affairs at Microsoft

Sept. 11–12

Total miles: 116

Miles I ran: 27

Day 1:

The flag looked different to me today.

The flag flew higher for me today.

As I ran the first 5.3 miles of the Old Glory Relay with veterans from San Francisco, I felt prouder today.

I noticed every flag flying high above office buildings, in parks and squares throughout the city. As I saw the faces of people as they walked to work, ran for their morning workouts, woke up from a night on the street, I wondered, “What are they thinking today on the anniversary of 9/11? What do they see in our faces as we run, during rush hour, with a police escort? What do they see in Old Glory?”

I felt like I was smiling ear-to-ear, looking around in awe at everything, and at times overwhelmed with emotion as I saw this thing we call the Old Glory Relay come to life in front of my eyes. I was at the center, the flag occasionally hitting me in the face or draping over my shoulder as, Chris Cortez, vice president of Military Affairs at Microsoft, proudly waved it to honking cars and the claps of random passersby. “SEMPER FI!” I could hear shouted from the doorway of an office building. One young man stood at attention as we passed. Another older man, with a black beret on, saluted us proudly.

I began to ask fellow runners: Are you a veteran? A family member? Friend? One was running for his Dad, a WWII veteran. Another for his two sons, both Army — he had an Airborne tattoo on his calf in their honor. At this point, I started to feel like I could run all day, and I even joked with Chris that he should give me the next two months to just keep on running.

Microsoft Military Affairs is committed to helping current and former service members find new career paths in the technology industry, and we partner with several industry leaders to accomplish this. Dan Streetman, senior vice president of Salesforce.com, was amazingly motivated during his team’s portion of the relay, and it reinforced to me that we really are on the same team when it comes to providing veteran training and pathways to tech careers. This was a key goal of our Team RWB partnership and kickoff in San Francisco, and it began to come to life right here as we sweated it out together.

Sharing the final moments of Day 1 with Joe Wallis, senior military engagement manager for Military Affairs at Microsoft, was so special to me personally. We’ve worked together for many years advocating for veterans, and this was a pinnacle moment — to run together to the cheers of the crowd that I know we’ll never forget. The Google veterans ran with us on the final sprint to the Microsoft campus — another testimonial that we are in this together FOR veterans.

Day 2:

Cool morning. Sore legs, but not too sore. I’m running on the adrenaline of Day 1 and the dream I have for our partnership with Team RWB. The route today will take us from the Microsoft Mountain View campus to Fairfield, California, passing through Fremont, Hayward and Danville. I stopped and took a selfie to capture the moment as I took Old Glory and began my leg.

As I took my first steps, I was reminded of the almost 14 miles I ran on Day 1, and I really began to understand, intimately and viscerally, what it will mean to run Old Glory 3,540 miles across the nation. One step after another, I finally found a rhythm and began to feel like I could keep going. I felt pride carrying the flag, especially as the honks started coming from the highway and, occasionally, waves from bicyclists passing by. That pride turns into adrenaline; it really is amazing but true.

The theme of this year’s relay is “Faces of Old Glory.” Runners and supporters along the route have been asked to share stories, videos and photos of empathy, action and impact for those who served throughout the event on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook using #OldGloryRelay. I met Mike, an 82-year-old Korean War veteran, who was crossing a broad intersection in Hayward. When I stopped, I said hi and asked if he was a Raiders fan. He smiled and said a resounding YES!, after which he asked what I was doing. When I explained, he shared his story with me. The moment triggered a memory of my adopted Uncle Stan Freedman, a Marine, WWII and Korean War veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and diehard Raiders fan. His Purple Heart hangs on my den wall as a reminder about why I do what I do.

In the end, I ran 15 miles Day 2, totaling almost 27 miles over two days. And I would be ready to head out on the road again tomorrow!