Operation Homefront walk honors military personnel

By Dave Kern, Columbian assistant metro editor

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Key sponsors of Operation Homefront Vancouver Freedom Walk were Fred Meyer, AdvoCare and Creekside Mortgage.

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Operation Homefront Washington

wes.forgey@operationhomefront.net

They all had reasons to be in Sunday's Operation Homefront Vancouver Freedom Walk.

"My husband was in the Army, my father was in the Air Force and my grandfather was in the Army," said Vancouver's Libbey Holloway. Her girls, Gracie, 9, and Emily, 7, decided to run, not walk, along the Columbia River waterfront on a bright afternoon. The 2.5-mile walk went from the Grand Central Fred Meyer parking lot to the waterfront, over the Vancouver Land Bridge, through the historic district and back to the store.

The event was meant to honor service members and veterans, police officers and firefighters, and to be a reminder of our freedoms and to allow for reflection on 9/11. About 60 people participated.

Holloway noted her husband, Officer George Holloway, is with the Portland Police Bureau. Another reason to walk.

Wes Forgey said he organized the event to also bring awareness to Operation Homefront, which provides emergency assistance to military families and wounded service personnel.

"We want them to know we are here," said Forgey, who is the Southwest Regional Coordinator for Operation Homefront.

Retired from the Air Force, Forgey was asked why he is involved in the effort.

"I like to consider myself a patriot, and I like to help young military folks because of all the deployments and the rigors of military family life," he said.

Last month, the chapter provided 250 backpacks filled with school supplies to local military families, Forgey said. He said when families in need receive help "there's tears, there's joy and relief, they're emotional." Forgey works with about 20 other volunteers. He said there are many Freedom Walks across America every September.

Operation Homefront in Washington has a $1.2 million budget this year, said John McDonagh of Seattle, president of the state's chapter.

Speaking at the event, U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said, "Your service matters. It does make a difference. … We are all grateful and we will never forget."

Other speakers included state Sen. Don Benton and Vancouver City Councilman Larry Smith, who both saluted the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts who were at the event. The flag ceremony was led by 1st Class Boy Scout Eric Curtland, 13, of Troop 554. He attends Pacific Middle School.

Pack 306 Cubmaster Ray Sipe of Vancouver had his hands full for the walk. His sons, all four of them, sported blue Freedom Walk T-shirts. He said he was at the walk "to show support. It's the least we can do." While Dakota, 10, and Hunter, 7, walked, Sipe pushed Tanner, 4, and Carson, 2, in a double stroller with an orange umbrella perched atop to provide relief from the sun.

Call to employers

Retired Army Col. Dan Kern of Clark County asked for help and support on another military issue. "We need veterans employed," he said, noting there is a tough transition when professional troops come home.

Paulie Stofiel of Vancouver said her husband, John, is a Marine who served from 1959 to 1979. She said he underwent triple-bypass surgery in April but was going to walk. They made about two-thirds of the walk before being picked up.

"I'm very proud of him being out here," she said.

Another Marine, James Muir of Vancouver, was at the event with his wife, Erika, and children: Ryker, 9, Trinity, 7, and Chriton, 6. He served in the 2nd Battalion 7th Marines in 29 Palms, Calif., from 1991 to 1995.

He said he brought his family to the walk "to honor all those who lost their lives in 9/11 and to thank all the military in service for keeping us free."