Editor's note: This story was originally posted on Macomb Patch on Feb. 8. Today it was chosen for Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" feature. We hope this inspires others in Michigan and across the country to support our veterans and "run" with their own projects.
Dean Allen Smith runs with his boots on.
A nod to his days as a Marine, Smith’s boots have trod the streets of Washington, D.C., the trails of Stony Creek and the mountains of Maryland.
This May, those boots will join hundreds of running shoes on a 100-mile journey through southern Ohio to honor the fallen heroes of Lima Company.
This journey is the second of its kind to be organized by the fraternal Marine organization, Always Brothers, of which the 38-year-old Smith is a founding member.
“We’re not runners,” Smith said of his organization. “We’re just some guys that wanted to do something good.”
That “something good” started as a 100-mile fund-raising run for the family of a fallen comrade. Today, it is an established nonprofit to aid the families of fallen veterans and those needing assistance.
The first steps taken for Swisher
“In 2010, I ran the Marine Core Marathon in honor of (Captain Tyler B. Swisher) and I ran it with boots,” Smith said. Inspired to do more for his friend, who was killed in Iraq in 2005, the Macomb Township resident reached out to Marines across the country who had served with Swisher at Camp David in the 90s.
“I went to the guys on Facebook and said, ‘Who wants to do a bigger run?’ Then the idea came to raise money for his kids’ college,” Smith said. “Very few of us had really stayed athletic, but a lot of those guys jumped on board right away.”
Within a few months, Smith and others had organized “100 Miles for Swisher,” a 24-hour, 100-mile run from Camp David to Swisher’s final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.
“We couldn’t do a marathon for Tyler, because that would be too easy. We had to do something better than that. So we decided on a 100-mile run.”
Smith and a handful of others started their journey at 6 a.m. Aug. 11, 2011.
“It was tough,” Smith said of experience. “We’re at mile 99 coming over the Arlington Memorial Bridge and we’re running with (Swisher’s daughter) Ashley and she’s got a picture of her dad on her back and you see his other kids standing with his wife waiting for us. They wanted to run in with us so they could honor their dad. There wasn’t a lot of talk in that last mile.”
The run finished at 9:11 a.m. Aug. 12, 2011.
“We didn’t plan on finishing at 9:11, but we joked, Tyler made it happen,” Smith said.
A few good men trek on
It was with this belief in their mission that Always Brothers committed to a second 100-mile run this year to honor the fallen men of Lima Company, a reserve Marine battalion stationed in Columbus, OH, which lost 22 Marines and one Navy Corpsman KIA in Iraq in 2005.
“We have identified 15 kids from these guys, and we’re working with some of the family members, fathers and mothers to help gather everybody back up,” Smith said.
“You always risk reopening old wounds, but I think it’s important that we let them know their son wasn’t lost for nothing. We do remember him. Regardless of what your political views are, a father went over there and he died, and you have 23 guys here who left kids behind.”
As he points to a composite of photographs, “He left two, this guy has one …” something in Smith’s voice changes. “I’m trying to keep as distant as I can,” he explains, “so emotions don’t get in the way of the mission we’re trying to accomplish–taking care of these kids–but it’s not an easy task.”
And in reality, it is one even Smith admits is impossible.
“There’s no training for 100 miles. You try to prepare mentally and physically, but you really run with your heart.”
While only eight runners are expected to travel the entire 100 miles, more than 23 relay teams have signed on to participate in portions of the run, including a 93-year-old grandmother.
“That’s the best, when you have a grandmother of one of the fallen who wants to run with us. She said she’s going to have to walk, but we’re OK with that. It gives us an excuse to walk.”
100 Miles for Lima Co. sets off May 26 from Swisher’s hometown of Mariemont, OH, and ends at Battelle Darby Metro Park outside Columbus, OH.
And though this may be the last 100-mile trek Smith's boots make–"I'm not getting any younger," he jokes–it is still only the beginning for Always Brothers.
"We don't just take care of Marines, we take care of any veteran, and their family," Smith said. "We're going to make sure as much money as possible goes to their kids and those fathers, brothers, sisters, are never forgotten. As soon as you stop remembering someone’s name, that’s when they die. You keep the name alive and they live forever."
Reaching out to Always Brothers
Those wishing to make a donation to the Lima Kids college scholarship fund can do so in one of two ways:
- Make a deposit at any Huntington Bank branch to Always Brothers, Inc, ‘Lima Kids’
- Send a check to Always Brothers Inc., P.O. Box 320513, Fairfield, CT 06825. Make the check out to Always Brothers Inc., with Lima Kids in the memo line
One hundred percent of the donations will go to the scholarship fund.
Always Brothers is also looking for someone to donate a Kawasaki Mule that can be used to carry supplies on the Lima run and ultimately be donated to a local veteran who lost both legs in combat.