Mud, sweat, cheers as fallen troops honored

Six fallen American soldiers were honored with mud, sweat and cheers by Team Special Ops Survivors of Baton Rouge who competed in a grueling obstacle course here Saturday called a Warrior Dash Race.

William “Trey” Kubricht, Team Special Ops Survivors leader and a Baton Rouge physician, said the 3.3 mile, 12-obstacle course through the hilly forest surrounding the West Feliciana Sports Park was strenuous but rewarding, especially when they heard a wave of cheers for them as they crossed the finish line.

“It was awesome to know that people care and remember the fallen and their families,” Kubricht said as he scraped off mud stuck to his uniform from the last belly-crawl, mud-pit obstacle.

“We did this primarily to raise awareness of the foundation and to let people know there are people left behind when our special operations people are killed in service of their country,” Kubricht said.

Special Ops Survivors is a nationwide, nonprofit group that financially assists surviving family members of more than 200 active-duty Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine special operations personnel who have died in combat or training since September 11, 2001.

Warrior Dash, billed as “the world’s largest obstacle race service,” according to its website, travels the country on a semi-weekly basis, has, since 2009, seen more than a million participants at over 150 venues and raised $7.5 million for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

The park was like a giant fitness carnival featuring dozens of booths with food or clothing for sale or nonprofits passing out information. Thousands of people were dressed in funky attire similar to “Run for Pink” or “Color Run” events.

Music blared from a rock band stage while the runners waited their turn to run through a start gate that blasted fire into the air every few minutes.

“We have a lot of charities like church groups or the National Guard — or Special Ops Survivors — who participate with us,” said event coordinator Kristen Geil. “We’re very pleased with the turn-out.”

While most of the estimated 5,000 Warrior Dash participants wore shorts and T-shirts, the six Special Ops Survivors team members were clad in long-sleeve shirts, combat pants, combat boots and lightweight helmets. They all carried backpacks with water, medical supplies and other items. One pack included a collapsible stretcher that came in handy on the course.

“We wore the uniforms to represent the unity of the team and to show the perseverance and determination that both the operators and their families have to push through the obstacles life has thrown at them,” Kubricht said. “We made a point to stop at every obstacle and call out the names of the fallen and their killed-in-action date.”

The obstacles included cargo-net or ropes courses, trenches filled with mud,car tires placed at odd angles, several walls of various heights and a short swim across a pond. To finish participants had to climb and descend a barn-roof shaped triangle, jump over a small fire and then crawl through the mud.

Far back into the forest a woman had injured her ankle and was being attended to by a local EMT when the team arrived.

“I told him, ‘We got this!’ We’ve got a stretcher and six guys,” said Team Special Ops Survivors member Scott Madison, an IT specialist from Baton Rouge. “We got her onto it and carried her out to an ATV.”

The fastest course time, said Geil, the Warrior Dash event coordinator, was 19 minutes. She estimated most of the 5,000 participants would finish it from a half-hour to about an hour. Team Special Ops Survivors’ finish time was just over an hour, but none of them minded since they helped someone.

“We started and finished as a unit,” Kubricht said.

Each team member wore two service patches describing a fallen operator they were remembering — one for them and the other for the operator’s family.

Kubricht represented Lt. Col. John Stein, a pilot with the 41st Rescue Squadron, who was killed on a humanitarian rescue mission in Afghanistan on March 23, 2003. He left behind a wife Barbara, and two sons and a daughter.

Brandon Woolf, an executive recruiter in Baton Rouge, represented Master Sgt. Michael McNulty, killed on June 17, 2005. His wife Paula Boyd, lives in Bainbridge, Ga. “Today is his birthday and he left behind four children,” Woolf said.

Devin Brooks, a financial adviser and retired U.S. Navy survival instructor, represented Capt. Matthew Bancroft, a Marine pilot killed on Jan. 9, 2002, when the C-130 he was flying crashed in Afghanistan. “I’ve spoken to his wife Mary Ellen — it is an honor to do what we are doing,” Brooks said.

Scott Madison ran for Chief Petty Officer Matthew Bourgeois, a Navy SEAL killed by a land mine on March 27, 2002, while training Afghan soldiers. Madison placed a photo of Bourgeois’ widow, Michelle, and son, Matthew, of Jacksonville, Fla, on his helmet.

“Matthew has had to grow up without his dad — it’s been pretty rough,” Madison said.

Shawn Frazer, a CPA in Baton Rouge, represented Master Sgt. Thomas Maholic, who was killed June 24, 2006, while protecting his unit’s position in Afghanistan. Maholic’s widow Wendy and son Drew, “are very happy we’re doing this,” Frazer said.

J.J. Safer, an IT security manager in Baton Rouge, represented CW3 Hershel “Dan” McCants Jr., a Chinook helicopter pilot with the 160th SOAR Airborne, “the Nightstalkers,” killed in action on Feb. 18, 2007.

When Safer crossed the finish line, Kyle Ambeau, a race participant happened to see the red “Nightstalkers” patch on Safer’s arm that matched the symbols on Ambeau’s T-shirt and running shorts.

“That’s my unit,” Ambeau said, adding he served “multiple tours” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I think its great they are doing this,” Ambeau said. “To see the support for them — it makes me proud.”