Now that I have decided to run each race in 2017 for a fallen hero, someone who succumbed to post traumatic stress and couldn’t win the internal battle with their demons after service to their country, I am realizing what a humbling and awesome commitment I have made to the families of these heroes as well as the organisers at 22 Too Many. My first race with this purpose was the Bermuda Marathon, where I ran for SPC Francis ‘Stoney’ Graves III. Along the course, I was asked by several people what the ‘story’ was for Stoney – why I was running in his memory. I’m glad that I spent the time to really read his story in advance of the race, learning more about this person that I never knew but was asked to represent during the marathon. It allowed me to share him with others along the 26.2 mi journey in Bermuda.
I’m not just running to raise awareness about this horrendous statistic that 22 veterans and active duty service members take their own lives every day because of the internal battles that rage within – ones that we cannot comprehend or explain – but I’m also running to give the family and friends of these people some solace in the fact that their loved one is not forgotten. In a sense, I have been entrusted with the memory of someone very special, and it is my job to represent them, their families and all those who are still fighting the battle of PTSD. I’m wearing their picture and I know their story so I can tell others. It is trusting me, a complete stranger, with such an intimate and personal story. And I really am realising how awesome of a task this is to not only run the race, but to run it with honour for these people. To share their experience and help others to know about the struggles of our military. To hopefully be a part of enacting change when it comes to care of our veterans. It really hit me when I received my heroes for the upcoming spring races just what a responsibility I have taken on. I promise to do my best for all these families, as I know I have been trusted with the memory of someone very important to them.
That said, my next marathon is on the horizon, and I am very honoured to run for two men. They were very close friends who came from the same hometown. Brian was encouraged to join the Marine Corps by Jesse. When Brian lost both his legs in an IED explosion, it was difficult for Jesse, as he supported Brian in his decision to become a Marine. As was explained to me, they were so close that it wouldn’t be right to run for one and not the other. So here I go, with the Chattanooga Marathon coming up quickly on March 5, 2017, being run for both of these heroes.
LCpl Brian Felber, USMC
3/29/14 (age 24)
Lance Cpl. Brian Felber was a retired Marine of 1st Battalion 6th Marines Bravo Company starting June 30, 2008. On Oct. 31, 2011, while patrolling in Afghanistan (his second tour of duty there), Brian stepped on an IED and tragically lost both of his legs. He was hospitalised at Walter Reed and endured numerous surgeries during his stay. Regardless of his injuries, he progressed quickly, battling through continuous pain. Anyone who knew Brian knows he was full of life and energy and would never give up when faced with a challenge. He was determined to persevere through his injuries and knew without a doubt that he would. He was respected and admired by many, but he was loved by everyone, especially those who were fortunate enough to be in his presence. He was, and will always be, an inspiration to all and a friend to everyone.
He was awarded the Purple Heart for his service.
SGT Jesse Michael Martin, USMC
5/2/87 – 11/3/13 (age 26)
From his family: “This is my son, SGT Jesse Michael Martin, USMC. He hung himself Nov 3, 2013 while waiting to get into the PTSD program at the VA. His unit was 2nd Anglico stationed in Jacksonville, NC. He served two tours in Afghanistan. Before joining the Marines, he competed in the stand up jet ski competitions and did well. He enjoyed hunting, camping, canoeing – any outdoor activity. He was an extremely loving man and spent so much time with fellow veterans with PTSD, trying to help them.”
Jesse grew up in Florence and graduated from Bradshaw High School in 2005. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2008, and received Boot Camp training at Parris Island, SC. He served one tour in Afghanistan in the 2nd Anglico Unit. He returned home and married. He was called for a second tour in Afghanistan where he was a forward observer working with the Nepalese Gurkhas, known as the fiercest fighters in the world. He taught them to read maps and call in artillery strikes; the handbook he wrote is still used by them. As a show of respect, the Gurkhas ceremoniously presented Jesse a Kukri, a forward curving knife used in combat.
Following his second tour he and his wife lived in Camp Lejeune, NC, and they moved to Florence where he attended UNA. Jesse was an avid jet ski rider and had entered amateur competitions. He loved the outdoors, was a hunter, and a collector of guns. Jesse was a great storyteller and was animated as he shared his tales. Friends and family knew not to interrupt until the story was told.
Jesse is survived by his wife Morgan Strong Martin; parents Jeff and Tammy Martin of Florence; parents-in-law Bill and Rachel Strong of Florence; grandparents Linda Bond, Sheffield, Geraldine Martin and Barbara Elliott of Muscle Shoals; aunts and uncles; sister-in-law Rita Strong, Harvest, AL.
Thank you for your service, Marines. Rest in peace and know that I will run my best race possible for you in Chattanooga.