Military Warriors Squad run armed with honor
MANTENO — A group of United States veterans and active duty men and women will run throughout Manteno on Monday morning to honor fellow veterans.
The annual run is headed by Daniel Gerber, of Manteno, who served in the Navy from 1984 to 1988. He’s a member of the Manteno American Legion Color Guard, the UAW Veterans Committee and the Team Red White & Blue veterans organization.
“I support veterans whenever I can,” he said.
Five years ago on Veterans Day, he went out for a run carrying an American flag. When he passed by a Manteno school bus, the kids inside waved at him with excitement and the bus driver honked in support.
The following year, inspired by the community’s encouragement, Gerber called up a few friends and local veterans to officially organize a group run to take place every Veterans Day, or on the observed date of the holiday, to bring veterans and their sacrifices to the forefront of the Manteno community.
At about 7:30 a.m. Monday, the group of nearly 20 runners — collectively dubbed the Military Warriors Squad — will meet at Heritage Park before beginning their run at 7:40 at Manteno Elementary School. Maintaining a steady mile time of 11 minutes for four miles, the runners will pass by Manteno’s middle and high schools before arriving in downtown Manteno, then finally finishing back at Heritage Park at about 8:45 a.m.
In past years, Gerber said, it seemed like nearly every student and teacher at the Manteno schools stood outside their buildings anticipating the runners’ arrival. Last year, it was 19 degrees outside and Gerber didn’t expect a large crowd to greet the squad, but then found every student and teacher outside bracing the weather for them.
“The public support in Manteno has been great,” he said.
“We hope to instill a sense of pride in the students of their country and military,” he continued, and he also hopes to make the students feel included in the run.
“I like running past the schools because it can help kids understand the sacrifices people make and brings attention to veterans,” said Jennifer Deets Ingram, of Donovan, a Navy veteran who served from 1992 to 1996.
Deets Ingram has run with Gerber in the squad since the first run took place. Gerber and Deets Ingram were both members of the Kankakee River Running Club when Gerber asked her to join him and a few other veterans for the first honorary run.
Deets Ingram views the run as a “source of patriotism,” she said.
To help establish that patriotism, veterans and military members will run while holding the American flag and other patriotic flags, including the National League of Families POW/MIA Flag, a flag representing prisoners of war and those missing in action. Some will be dressed in combat gear, while others will be clad in their old boots rather than running shoes.
And a new addition this year is Jojo Sayson, of Jojo Sayson’s Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation in Bourbonnais, who is escorting runners in his Humvee, or “high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle,” topped with a .50 caliber machine gun.
With their combat gear, flags and Sayson’s Humvee, they’ll be hard to miss among the regular Monday morning pedestrians in Manteno. Also accompanying the crew is a golf cart to assist veterans who are unable to run and some Legion Riders from the Manteno American Legion Post 755.
“It’s great to do something with the other veterans that the community can watch,” said Eric Peterson, of Manteno, who served in the National Guard, with a deployment to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.
Peterson, who also ran with the squad in 2017, is “absolutely not” a runner, but he states, “I do it for the community and the veterans in the community.”
Aside from participating in the run, Peterson is the founder of Project Headspace and Timing, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting “positive mental health practices to our nation’s veterans and working to unify them with their communities, nature and themselves,” according to their Facebook page. A couple months ago, Peterson and others from the community helped 95-year-old World War II veteran Ray Olley to sail again in a restored canoe.
Army veteran John Schimmel, of rural St. Anne, has also been recruited into the run.
“I’m running in support of those who served in the military to honor their sacrifice and what their families experience, as well,” he said.
He served in the Army from 1970 to 1973 in a noncombat position which led him to be briefly stationed in Korea.
All the veterans in the Military Warriors Squad — and all throughout the country — may have served in different branches, at different times and for different reasons, but they all are united in their service to their country.
The run serves as a simple way to pay homage to those who offered their lives to the country and is just one small part of what many do to advocate for their fellow veterans in Kankakee County and the surrounding areas.
Deets Ingram, the veterans affairs coordinator for Iroquois County, believes everyone who supports the country should do their best to support its veterans.
“If you see us running Monday morning, make sure to honk and say hi!”