Why a Small City in the Midwest Embraced the Special Operations Warrior Foundation’s Mission
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Posted by: Wendy Bourland
In October of 2009, Ellisville, Missouri, a community 25 miles west of St. Louis, held its first 5k Run/Walk & Kid’s Fun Run.
Afterward, city officials decided to make the event an annual tradition - and incorporate a fundraising element to support a charity. Ellisville’s recreation coordinator, Sherri Klekamp, oversaw the inaugural event with the help of municipal employees and volunteers.
A few weeks before the 2010 run, she phoned the Special Operations Warrior Foundation to announce it would be the beneficiary. While the news was a pleasant surprise, it raised the question of how a city of just over 9,000 residents in America’s Heartland was familiar with the SOWF, an organization unknown to many Americans; and why they chose to use their 5k Run/Walk & Kid’s Fun Run to support the foundation.
Here’s the answer.
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Race Director-to-be Sherri Klekamp was five years old on November 4, 1979, when 66 Americans were taken hostage by Iranian militants who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Sherri didn’t know it then, but one of the captives was her 22-year-old uncle, Marine Corps Sgt. Rodney V. "Rocky" Sickmann. Rocky, who hailed from Krakow, MO, 35 miles west of Ellisville, had reported to the embassy for guard duty just two weeks earlier.
Five months into the hostage crisis, after diplomacy had not secured the Americans’ release, President Jimmy Carter authorized military force to free them. A team of U.S. commandos had been training in secret for this very purpose and would now carry out "Operation Eagle Claw”.
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One of the men chosen for the Eagle Claw mission was an Air Force special operations officer, Maj. John T. Carney, Jr., of New London, CT.
The general role of a combat controller -John Carney's speciality - was, and still is today, to operate in remote and sometimes hostile areas helping the Air Force accomplish its mission by directing air traffic; and alerting pilots and command of the location of hostile forces on the ground.
John slipped into Iran weeks prior to Operation Eagle Claw to scout the desert landing strip and bury infrared lights to mark a runway. He would also lead a team of combat controllers during the mission.
However, when mechanical problems forced the return of one helicopter and another one turned around when it encountered an unexpected dust storm, the daring mission was scrubbed. Then, as the rescue team was departing the restaging site, code name Desert One, the unthinkable happended. One of the helicopters collided with a C-130 which took the lives of eight men.
When the surviving members of the commando team returned home, they took up a collection to support the 17 boys and girls who lost a parent at Desert One. This humble but heartfelt effort would grow into today’s Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
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Anne Lucas lives in Missouri and Theresa Bradshaw lives in Illinois. Their father, Army Capt. Keith Lucas, a special operations helicopter pilot and Illinois native, lost his life in October of 1983 when Anne was 2 and Keith’s wife, Paula, was pregnant with Theresa.
The sisters – both SOWF scholarship recipients – and their families have come to the Ellisville 5k since it began supporting the foundation. Anne and Theresa take turns addressing the crowd briefly prior to the start of the run, thanking everyone for participating.
It’s very emotional for them, even after three years, but they are very appreciative.
"The race just gets better each year,” Theresa says. "We love being a part of it and the SOWF!”
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"I discovered the SOWF when I was assigned to the 8th Special Operations Squadron,” says Rory Foster, communications director for Bo Beuckman Ford in Ellisville, one of the 5k’s corporate supporters.
"Many of the men and women at the squadron had spoken very highly of the organization, of fallen warriors and how SOWF stepped in and took care of the families left behind.”
After retiring from the Air Force in 1999 at Ft. Bragg, NC, Rory returned home to Missouri. He was hired by Bo Beuckman, a lifelong friend who was always very supportive of the military. (The largest U.S. flag in Ellisville flies in front of the dealership.)
Rory says he had spoken with his boss about the SOWF, so when the two men found out that Ellisville was going to start supporting the Warrior Foundation through the 5k Run/Walk & Kid’s Fun Run, "we had to be a part of it.”
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As the sun began burning off the fog and peeking over the treetops the morning of Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, Sherri and her coworkers in the Recreation Department, joined by members of the police, fire and public works departments, City Manager Kevin Bookout and Assistant City Manager Andrea Muskopf, were busily preparing scenic Bluebird Park for the Fourth Annual City of Ellisville 5k Fun Run and Walk & Kids Walk.
First responders stood by in case anyone might need medical attention. Business owners and their employees set up tents and tables, while runners and walkers checked in, or registered if they had not done so previously. Lots of folks grabbed cups of coffee and hot chocolate to help fortify them against the cold.
The run’s host and master of ceremonies, St. Louis radio personality Dave Glover, took to the mike to caution the runners and walkers there could be black ice - which is difficult to spot – on the wooden bridges along the park’s winding pathways. Two days earlier, locals said, temperatures were in the 80s. Yet no one was complaining – adults, young children or infants. In fact, everyone was downright cheerful. Applause rang out for runners and walkers who collected medals for placing in their respective adult and child categories.
But by 10 a.m., the event – and the teardown – was complete.
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John Carney retired from the Air Force in 1991 after nearly 30 years of service. He is widely considered to be the father of American special tactics, and has received numerous accolades.
Determined to support the special operations community after hanging up his uniform, John joined the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as president and CEO in 1997. In 2011, he was inducted into the U.S. Special Operations Command Commando Hall of Honor.
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Rocky Sickmann left the Marine Corps three months after his release from captivity. In 1982, he was hired by Anheuser-Busch, based in St. Louis. Rocky worked his way up through the ranks and today, this husband and father of three is director of military sales for the company.
Each year, a few days before the City of Ellisville 5k Fun Run/Walk and Kids Walk, he stops by the Dave Glover Show, which airs on News Talk Station 97.1 FM, to promote the event. So do Anne and Theresa, and Sherri Klekamp.
Anne graduated college in 2003 with a degree in psychology, while Theresa, who was born five months after her dad’s death, graduated college in 2004 with a degree in criminology.
Both sisters continue to play the grand piano their father bought when he and Paula learned she was pregnant with Anne.
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There were 52 Americans held hostage by Iran for 444 days. Another 13 were freed on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20 of 1979; and one was freed on July 11, 1980.
Six Americans evaded capture and took refuge in the Canadian embassy, then were smuggled out of Iran with Canadian passports. Their story has been made into a movie, Argo, now playing in theaters.
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Ellisville leaders have decided to move the 2013 5k fun run/walk and kid’s walk to July 4.
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In addition to Bo Beuckman Ford, the SOWF would like to thank the other sponsors who helped support the SOWF via the City of Ellisville 5k Fun Run/Walk & Kids Walk:
Allen Roofing & Siding, Allied Waste Services, Anheuser-Busch, Ameren Missouri, Bethesda Health, Gold’s Gym, Manchester West Vet, Metro West Fire, The Fountains, West County Honda, West Newsmagazine, All-Star Distributing, Big River Running Co., BMO Harris Bank, Carmody’s Pub & Eatery, Cooper, Dierbergs, Ellisville Veterinary Hospital, First Bank, First Baptist Church of Ellisville, First Community Credit Union, Logan Chiropractic Health Centers, and Masterpiece Smiles.