Running to remember

Soldiers run to help wounded warriors

By J.M. Simpson on December 9, 2010

Christian Hamilton is not your typical long-distance runner.

"I'm here to show my support for those who have been wounded and those who have given their all," said the staff sergeant, who is assigned to the 17th Fires Brigade on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

While about 700 runners prepared for a 5K run Saturday morning in downtown Seattle near the Space Needle, Hamilton tightened the laces on his combat boots and adjusted the 40 pounds his rucksack carried. "I should finish the course in 40 or so minutes," he said moments before the race began.

Teaming up with Amica Insurance and the Seattle Marathon Association, JBLM's Maj. Mark Piccone and Maj. Mike Moore worked to offer soldiers an opportunity to experience the Iraq/Afghanistan Remembrance Run of 2010.

The run featured a 5K race on Nov. 27 and a half-marathon and marathon on Nov. 28.

The team from JBLM that competed in Saturday's 5K consisted of wounded warriors from JBLM's Warrior Transition Battalion.  Accompanying them were uninjured soldiers to lend a hand and show their respect. Operation Ward 57 helped to get wounded warriors to the race on Saturday and showed support for JBLM soldiers who ran on Sunday.

"The Iraq/Afghanistan Remembrance Run is in honor of those who died or were wounded in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan," wrote Brittney McBride, the Tacoma-based spokesperson for Operation Ward 57, in an e-mail. "We are also very thankful for the $6,000 Amica contributed to our efforts."

Started by Deborah Semer, Operation Ward 57 takes its name from the orthopedic Ward 57 at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the first stop for many returning wounded soldiers. The organization is a grass roots and voluntary non-profit charity dedicated to helping soldiers and their families.

In December 2006, Sgt. Scott Cameron, a licensed practical nurse and Semer's husband, was transferred from JBLM to WRAMC's Ward 57. While visiting the medical center and seeing all the young amputees, Semer resolved to do what she could to help them with their new lives. It soon became evident that additional help and funding was needed to provide items to facilitate patient healing and care.

In March 2007, Cameron asked his wife to obtain some Seattle Seahawks memorabilia to boost the spirits of a depressed amputee patient from Seattle.

Using her connections in Seattle's artistic community, Semer, who founded Atmosphere Artist Management & Consulting LLC in 2004, took the first step toward helping the area's wounded warrior.

"The guys at Operation Ward 57 were really great to me," commented Joe Brown, an Iraq veteran and former soldier with the Washington Army National Guard.  Although he did not run the 5K, Brown said that going to movies provided by Operation Ward 57 was great.  "I cannot say enough about what they did for me."

"We help, we assist, we provide," said McBride, as she waited for Hamilton, her boyfriend, to finish the course. "Operation Ward 57 gives back, and we are committed to helping soldiers."

Meanwhile, Hamilton had met and been running step for step with Paul Cretelli, a retired British paratrooper.  He too was wearing combat boots and carrying 40 pounds in a rucksack. The two soldiers were in pursuit of the same goal - helping their wounded brothers.

"Let's finish this together," said Hamilton to Cretelli as they crested the last hill on the course.

"Sounds good, mate," replied Cretelli.

While Hamilton ran to support Operation Ward 57, Cretelli ran in support of the Wounded Warrior Project. On a quest to run 1,000 miles in 2010, Cretelli runs in combat gear to raise money for wounded veterans while honoring those who have sacrificed so much. As of Saturday's run, Cretelli had logged more than 600 miles.As the two soldiers crossed the finish line together in 41 minutes, they put their rucksacks down and caught their breath.

"It was a good workout," said Cretelli, as Hamilton stood by and smiled. "Yes, and we both raised awareness and money for very good causes," replied Hamilton.