The group from the University of Southern Maine stood out from the other walkers around Portland’s Back Cove because of the heavy backpacks so many of them wore. Not so plain to see, however, was the emotional weight they were also carrying.
USM’s Veterans Services staff created the Husky Ruck to honor members of the campus community who died during active military duty. It took place just before Memorial Day weekend on Thursday, May 26.
MAJ. JAY T. AUBIN, 36, of Waterville, Maine, was killed March 20, 2003 as the CH-46E helicopter he was piloting crashed in Kuwait near the Iraqi border. Aubin was assigned to the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
Katherine Reynolds helped oversee the ruck’s planning and execution. It was one of her first major projects since starting her job as Administrative Specialist with Veterans Services a few weeks earlier.
“What better way to see what the community is like and jump in with both feet and do something really memorable,” Reynolds said.
A ruck has two meanings. It refers to the type of backpack typically worn by service members to carry their equipment. A walk, run, or hike while wearing such a backpack is also known as a ruck.
CAPT. PATRICK D. DAMON, 41, of Falmouth, Maine, died June 15, 2006 from a non-combat related cause in Bagram, Afghanistan. Damon was assigned to 240th Engineer Group, Maine Army National Guard, Augusta, Maine.
About a dozen USM employees and alumni participated, including Kathryn Masters, who works as an Administrative Specialist in the Department of Exercise, Health, and Sport Sciences.
“It’s something I feel like I can do to actively be supporting our military students in some small way,” Masters said. “I don’t see them enough and I don’t interact with them enough to feel like they’re being honored. So, this feels good to take the time and give them this three hours of my day to say ‘I appreciate you.’”
The group gathered in the space between the Wishcamper Center and Glickman Family Library on the Portland Campus. At the appointed time, they made a beeline down Bedford Street toward Back Cove. A full circuit of the walking path that traces the shoreline plus the short distance back to campus runs about four miles.
SGT. CHRISTOPHER D. GELINEAU, 23, of Portland, Maine, died April 20, 2004 when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Mosul, Iraq. Gelineau was assigned to the 133rd Engineer Battalion, Army National Guard, Gardiner, Maine.
The route included five stops, each one dedicated to a fallen service member. The walkers took turns reading biographical sketches with details of the troops’ military service and connections to USM. After an additional moment of silent reflection, the walk resumed.
The featured veterans were Maj. Jay T. Aubin, Capt. Patrick D. Damon, Sgt. Christopher D. Gelineau, Capt. Daniel J. Tranchemontagne, and Staff Sgt. Eric B. Shaw. Their lives are remembered on campus all year long through a series of plaques that hang on the walls of the Veterans Resource Center at Sullivan Gym.
CAPT. DANIEL J. TRANCHEMONTAGNE, 32, of Portland, Maine, died May 30, 2004 from a non-combat related cause at Walter Reed Medical Center. Tranchemontagne was assigned as a staff officer with the 368th Engineers in Kuwait until he was diagnosed with cancer and evacuated to Walter Reed.
“We need to remember these folks who made the ultimate sacrifice, and also that they were a member of a family, including ours,” said Director of Veterans Services Lorrie Spaulding.
USM’s military family remains large with about 400 recipients of the GI Bill in attendance. Those students include service members, veterans, and their dependents.
Back Cove was a change from Kiren Ovady’s usual walking routine during which fills his downtime from working as an Administrative Specialist in the Office of Registration and Scheduling Services. He often ventures to a park on Noyes Street where the benches are dedicated to several people who died in a fire at a nearby house in 2014.
STAFF SGT. ERIC B. SHAW, 31, of Exeter, Maine, died June 27, 2010 in Ghakai Valley, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with small arms fire. Shaw was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 327 Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
“Along the same line, I think it’s important to memorialize our students that we’ve lost and do something to respect them,” Ovady said.
A brisk pace and a steady wind off the water combined to bring a flush of color to most of the walkers’ cheeks. Being outside in the sun with good company kept the mood of the ruck light despite its serious purpose. The walkers finished where they began with smiles all around.