In 2011, Cory Smith, a corporal in the U.S. Army assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia, returned from his second deployment to an empty home. Smith’s wife had left with their daughter, Elliegh, and returned to their home state of Indiana.
“So here I was, completely helpless, hopeless, not really knowing where I would be,” Smith recalled during an interview last year. “I had a lot of ruminating thoughts – bad thoughts. ‘What do I do from here?’ Thoughts about harming myself popped into my head plenty of times and then, finally, I came up with this idea that I was just going to run home to my daughter, because the only thing I could do to get out of the apartment and keep myself mentally stable was to get out running, listen to music, and be out on the road by myself. At that point I thought, ‘Why not? Why not just go ahead and run home to Elliegh?’”
On Jan. 3, 2012, Smith started his 565-mile journey to Indianapolis, and GallantFew, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of veterans transitioning out of the military, helped him along the way. Smith’s intentions were two-fold: to reach his daughter and to shine a light on the issues that soldiers face when they return from war — namely suicide and reassimililating to “regular” life. Local news outlets covered his progress, and people who had learned about his story came out to join him as he passed through their town.
From that experience, Run Ranger Run was born. Run Ranger Run is an annual fundraiser hosted by GallantFew that encourages teams of up to 10 people to run, bike, or row 565 miles during the month of February. It’s the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year and helps them provide resources to veterans in need of their services.
According to the latest statistics available from the Department of Labor, unemployment for veterans of the Global War on Terrorism are down 1.4 percent. Likewise, the U.S. Veterans Administration reports a decline in veteran suicide — 20 per day, down from 22 per day. While we’ve made good progress on these issues, there’s a long way to go.
GallantFew is a strong force for positive change in the veteran community. Since the group’s inception in 2010, it has provide services to more than 7,000 veterans, including:
- One-on-one mentoring to assist with the challenges associated with transition
- Promoting the Spartan Pledge and intervening with veterans who are danger of harming themselves
- The creation of specialized programs for Army Rangers, U.S. Marine Raiders, U.S. Air Force, female veterans, American Indian veterans, and veterans in the Detroit area
In October 2019, Coffee or Die attended GallantFew’s 2019 VetXpo in Dallas. The weekend-long conference featured networking opportunities, guest speakers, and with an emotional display of solidarity as everyone gathered around a Gold Star mom to recite the Spartan Pledge. The woman had lost her son to suicide just a few years prior.
Karl Monger, the founder and executive director of GallantFew, is a retired Airborne Ranger, infantry company commander, and Ranger battalion staff officer. He is no stranger to the adversity facing veterans.
“I’ve fought with the frustration of translating my military skills to language that appeals to civilian employers,” Monger said. “I’ve also experienced incredible delays in the VA medical system, and I know we can do better. At GallantFew, our unique approach pairs new veterans in their home cities with experienced veteran mentors. These mentors provide employment interviewing techniques, resume guidance, ideas about starting their own businesses, and education related to their veteran benefits.”
GallantFew structures its services around a methodology called “STAR” (Self-Training And Response-ability). It’s modeled on the Burris Institute’s Functional Emotional Fitness program, which is an outcomes-based approach foundational to GallantFew’s work with veterans. STAR highlights four areas of Functional Fitness: spiritual, physical, professional, and social. Run Ranger Run taps into all of these areas by creating a team-based mission and purpose that’s executed with physical activity and focuses on education regarding veteran issues.
“We would not exist in our current form if it weren’t for this event,” Monger said of the organization’s largest and most important fundraiser of the year. “Run Ranger Run raised over $400,000 in 2019, half of GallantFew’s operating budget. More importantly, it raises awareness of veteran issues and how GallantFew responds to them. Thousands have learned about us as a result. Men and women are alive today because Run Ranger Run connected them to us and we were able to help them overcome adversity. In 2019 alone, GallantFew provided over 2,000 documented services to veterans plus active duty unit events that served over 1,500 Rangers and family members.”
Registration is currently open for Run Ranger Run 2020, and teams can start logging miles when the event kicks off on February 1.