A Moving Tribute

At the beginning of the summer, Jeff bought a Jeep.

I should tell you up front that Jeeps are my dream car. Jeff wants to quibble that I had specified a Rubicon, but anyone in a relationship knows that this is a minor detail.

Since the purchase, we have both become a little Jeep crazy. My Jeep wave is way more cool than Jeff’s (we argued about this today, in fact). And we have spent hours looking at trailers and rooftop tents and tires. I have visions of adventures into no-man’s land, where we can camp in the mountains surrounded by absolutely no one.

So a few weeks ago, when we finished a hike at a local park and noticed two well-worn Jeeps in the parking area, we absolutely had to stop and check them out.

Thankfully, the owner did not find it at all creepy when he caught us ogling his over-sized tires, and we struck up a conversation.

Chuck Orzechowski is the captain of the Cleveland chapter of Team RWB, a national organization whose mission is to ‘enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to people in their community’. Events range from simple get-togethers to meditation to physical challenges such as WOD events. The group of veterans, their family members and friends also assists homeless veterans and veterans facing financial difficulties.

If we haven’t made it clear, Jeff is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. Now retired, he remains proud of his career and his service to this country. Running into Chuck and hearing about Team RWB was the perfect opportunity for Jeff to reconnect with his fellow service members, and give back to the military community at the same time.

Chuck invited us to join his group and, after a some investigation, we did.

Our first event with Team RWB Cleveland was near and dear to our hearts. On September 11, 2001, Jeff was working in the Federal Building in downtown Cleveland. I was at home, preparing for my first day of teaching. When I answered the phone to hear the shaky voice of my husband telling me to turn on the television, I – like so many of you – was forever changed.

Watching the devastation that day, seeing the second plane hit, watching the Towers fall, rocked us both to the core. Even today, the skyline of New York City seems empty without the trademark silhouettes of those buildings.

September 11 marked a change in the military community as a whole, as well. It marked the beginning of the longest war our nation has ever engaged in, became the focus of military careers, or was the reason many chose to enlist.

Each year, I stand in my classroom, faced with children who no longer remember or were not even born, and remind them of that day. I remind them that we, as a nation, have an obligation to remember that day. To celebrate the heroes of Flight 93 and the hundreds of first responders who risked their lives so that others might live. To remember the families who could never have predicted their lives would change in seconds. Forever.

The weight of this day on our hearts made it fitting that our first event with Team RWB would be the Moving 9.11 Tribute held nationwide on September 12.

photo courtesy of Team RWB

That Saturday, we joined Team RWB members across the country to run, walk or ruck 9.11 miles (or 9.11 km). Cumulatively, Team RWB members moved their American flags a total of 8,246 miles in tribute to the 2,977 lives lost on September 11 and the 5,449 service members killed in action in the wars that followed.

We stood together – socially-distanced – as the color guard from American Legion Post 572 presented the colors, and Team chaplain Brad Borke gave the invocation. The honorary event marshall, who is currently on orders and unable to actually attend, joined us via video, and the guns on the U.S.S. Cod fired to start us on our way.

Team members circled Cleveland, pausing in respect at monuments, fire stations and memorials around the city. It was amazing.

By the end of the morning, we had finished our miles, met new friends and shared in the memory of the event that united us all.

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