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NEWS | April 18, 2018

A good cause on hallowed ground

By Sgt. John Carkeet IV 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)

Two Humvees rolled onto Orlando’s Blue Jacket Park, their tires picking up the freshly cut grass covered in the early morning dew. After parking next to a pair of Strykers, part of the Army’s Interim Armored Vehicle family, four Soldiers from the Mission Support Element, 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), stepped out and introduced themselves to the men and women organizing the 9th Annual Wounded Warfighter Lone Sailor 5K/10K April 14, 2018.

“At first I thought we would stand quietly around the Humvees as everyone else focused on the race,” said Army Pfc. Vanessa M. Lamy, human resources specialist, MSE, 143d ESC. After we arrived, I became more excited as my Soldiers and I spoke with hundreds of people who were genuinely happy to see us. Their support made me more proud of what I do.”

“The Army vehicles have always been the main attraction,” added Christopher R. Townend, president, Central Florida Navy League. “Everyone loves to climb inside and have their picture taken … their excitement reminds me that, with the exception of the Army-Navy game, we are one team, one fight.”

Hosted by the Central Florida Council of the United States Navy League, the race featured more than 600 runners, walkers and rollers who, together with more than a dozen corporate sponsors and non-profit partners, raised approximately $54,000 for the Central Florida Navy League and the Camaraderie Foundation.

“The Wounded Warfighter Lone Sailor race honors the past, present and future of our military,” said Townend, a former Navy commander. “With more than 1,100 participants to include the virtual race, we have grown large enough to simultaneously support Central Florida’s veterans and uphold Orlando’s rich military heritage through school scholarships, donations to veteran organizations and the construction of military monuments.”

Dedicated to saving lives, families and marriages for service members and veterans, the Camaraderie Foundation offers counseling programs designed to heal the invisible wounds of war.

“On any given day, Central Florida has 1,300 homeless veterans who desperately need our help,” said Troy Edwards, youth programs director and scholarship director, Central Florida Navy League. Since the race’s inception in 2009, we have raised roughly $400,000 for programs and organizations like the Camaraderie Foundation to open career opportunities and enhance life skills for service members and their families facing the challenges of transitioning back to civilian life.”

The race took place in conjunction with a dedication ceremony of the Blue Jacket Recruit, a statue of a female recruit standing for inspection on her day of graduation from Navy Boot Camp. Designed by J. Don Reynolds, an Orlando resident and world renowned sculptor who once served in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, the heroic scale statue commemorates 188,000 women who began their naval careers at Recruit Training Center Orlando from 1968-94. The statue stands next to one of the nation’s Lone Sailor statues that signifies Central Florida’s rich military heritage and America’s gender integration in its armed forces.

“The Blue Jacket Recruit lights the torch for every woman who served in the Navy,” said Edwards. “We hope this memorial is the first of many across the nation.”

“The dedication ceremony properly expressed the lasting, positive impression women have made in our military,” said Lamy, an Orlando native who currently works at correctional facility in Georgia. “The statue reminded me that I’m part of a legacy forged by women who fought for the opportunities and privileges my fellow female Soldiers currently enjoy.”

The ceremony featured several distinguished guests to include Carla Hoskins, a graduate of RTC Orlando, Jennifer Thompson, vice mayor of Orange County, and Stephanie Murphy, U.S. congresswoman for Florida’s 7th District. The 143d ESC Soldiers joined them and hundreds others in attendance in expressing their respect for more than 650,000 men and women who completed the first phase of their illustrious Navy careers on the very spot the race took place.

“RTC Orlando was torn down in 1998,” said Townsend. “In its place, the city [of Orlando] built a gorgeous residential community complete with shops, restaurants and, of course, beautiful Blue Jacket Park. However, there was no evidence of the Navy’s enormous, 30-year presence. My fellow Navy League members and I made it our mission to collaborate with the Central Florida community to build a monument that recognizes the blood, sweat and tears these recruits had shed on this hallowed ground.”

Perhaps the most endearing moment of the day came when Wilbur Smith, director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2093 Community Band, walked up to the Blue Jacket Recruit statue, placed his trumpet to tips, and began to play, “Taps.”

“There were two little league baseball games were in play at the fields near the monument during the dedication ceremony,” recalled Army Staff Sgt. Myron J. Brown, senior human resources noncommissioned officer, MSE, 143d ESC. “Both games immediately stopped as the spectators, coaches, umpires and players turned toward the statue, took off their hats and put their hands on their hearts. In that moment, I knew the people of Central Florida support us just as much as we support them.”