River Bank Run 5K – Grand Rapids, Michigan

I ran this race yesterday, and beat my goal of 21:30. It was a good morning for a run, though it started to rain while most of the 25K runners were still out on the course. This year’s race brought a total of about 10,000 runners, and many of them were wearing military shirts or sweats. They got a great round of applause as they passed.

While I was near the finish area looking for friends who also ran, I noticed a guy in full military gear, boots, and wearing a pack. I wanted to talk to him, but there were already a ton of people around him and he was on the other side of a fence. His name apparently is Charles Bing, but I can’t find any results for a runner of that name on the results page or any pictures.

Here’s an article in today’s Grand Rapids Press by Sports Editor Bob Becker. I can’t find it online anywhere, so I’m going to reproduce it in whole for MO readers:

Military runners elicit patriotic crowd response

When First Sergeant Charles Bing, 301st Quartermaster Company, crossed the finish line Saturday morning in the 5K portion of the Fifth Third River Bank Run, he was swallowed up by hundreds of other runners completing the race at the same time.

But Bing, of Zeeland, stood out, because he was the only competitor in full combat mode, from the boots on his feet to the 30-lb. rucksack on his back. He was even toting the guide-on [guidon] from the 301st and it kept slapping his face throughout the race.

“I’ve done this before,” he said, “bit it was the first time in 18 years with a full pack.”

If you spent any time in the military, you know that the “first sarn’t” schedules the marches, then waves goodbye to the troops as they pass.

Bing sees the advantage of leading from the front.

“It’s for the motivation,” he said. “It’s a pride thing. I want young soldiers to understand that there can never be a time when they put anything less than their best effort into anything they do.

“This is a confusing time in the military, because our performance has become a political issue more than it ever should have been. We seem to be the subject of too many political battles and not enough support.

“My mom and dad taught me that you don’t build yourself up by belittling somebody else. You build yourself up by doing what’s right, and by doing the job.

SSgt. Harold Klemkoski, also from the 301st, ran the race in Army sweats.

“There is honor in serving your country,” he said. “I don’t mind dissent, it’s our job to help guarantee that right. But I’m not sure there’s as much dissent in the country as it seems. I wear the uniform every day, and every day people come up and thank me for my service.”

Klemkoski has been deployed to the Persian Gulf and to Bosnia.

“It’s just what we do,” he said. “It’s what we signed up for. Some people try to make it seem like we are apart from everybody else, but we are moms and dads, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, just like everybody else who raced today. We serve our country by choice.”

There were representatives of the Army, the Navy, the Marines, and the Coast Guard in the 5K race.

Each individual or unit was greeted by warm applause throughout the race course. We may have divergent ideas, but no matter which side of the aisle you support, there will always be a special pride in watching so many young people making the commitment to serve their country.

Neil Finley, 73, is an Army veteran.

“I did my hear good to see that young Marine detachment go into formation,” he said. “If lifted me up to see all those young people willing to make a commitment. It is a wonderful example of the American spirit.”

SSgt. Jamie Palmer of the local recruiting detachment working out of Wyoming helped lead the platoon of Marine recruits, who did the length of the course in formation, led by recruits carrying the American and Marine Corps flags.

On the back of Palmer’s T-shirt was this thought: Pain is weakness leaving the body.

“These are all young men and women who have already enlisted and are just waiting to go to boot camp,” Palmer said. “We’ve been helping them train, to get them ready.

“This was a good chance to do something special, while at the same time show the entire community the type of young people we find here, young men and women who are eager to serve their country. They make me proud.”

Robin Storm, an 18-year-old senior at Forrest Hills Central, was part of the recruit detachment who ran Saturday. She reports to Parris Island July 26 for boot camp.

“I hear it’s a great place to be in late July,” she said with a smile.

Why the Marines?

“I know I am joining an organization that will take care of me, that I can stick with for a long time,” she said. “I want to serve my country.”

“I don’t come from a military family, so they were surprised.

“But it is the right thing to do, especially the way things are today. I have always thought of myself as patriotic, but since I enlisted, I have a special feeling when I hear the National Anthem or I see the flag.

“I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to be able to serve my country. Some people might not understand that, but for me, it is the right thing to do.”

Steve VanAntwerpen and Tim Gustafson are Grand Rapids Navy Reservists assigned here to a small support group for a ship repair facility in Japan.

“We ran because we wanted people to look at us and see us for who we are, just regular people doing a job,” said VanAntwerpen. “Especially with everything that’s going on in the world right now.”

“We are proud of the uniform we wear and the service we give,” Gustafson added. “We made a commitment to the country and to each other, and that commitment means something.”

The River Bank Run is held every year, and every year there are military units or individuals running.

This year, however, there seemed to be much more meaning to both the effort of the runners and the response from the spectators.

“It did my heart good,” said Army veteran George Springer, 86, who came from Chicago to see a grandson run. He took part in the D-Day landings.

“From the sounds of things lately, I was starting to think we were losing our appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our military people. But the reception they got was warm and real.”

Sometimes, actions really do speak louder than words. Like rolling thunder, the applause from the sidewalks accompanied the military units from start to finish Saturday.

What it said was simple: We really are all in this together.

I wish I had gone over and talked to Bing and snapped a picture or two. My wife had the digital camera with, but I was too tired to think clearly, I guess.