STARKVILLE — Saturday evening, students from Mississippi State University took off for their first lap around campus to honor military members who are missing in action or killed in action or were prisoners of war. They planned to keep running for 24 hours straight.
MSU Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets, Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings members held their 17th annual Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings Service Run.
The first lap, which began at 5 p.m. Saturday, is called the “Honor Lap,” and cadets will run the one mile circle around campus while holding the POW/MIA flag, the United States flag, a flag representing each branch of the U.S. military and the Mississippi state flag. For 24 hours, a baton will be passed continuously to a runner to symbolize perseverance.
Cooper Robertson is a sophomore geosciences student and one of the AFROTC cadets charged with organizing this year’s run. He is the service run coordinator, and he has led his teammates in the planning, organizing, and hosting of the run.
“I hope that cadets and members of the community will reflect on the sacrifices that our men and women in the Armed Forces, especially those who are prisoners of war/missing in action, have made and use the run as a way to honor them,” Robertson said. “This year we’re honored to have retired Lieutenant Colonel Gene Smith in attendance for the opening ceremonies. Lt. Col. Smith was an Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam and was a prisoner of war during the conflict.”
The veteran was grateful to the cadets for the recognition they are giving to POWs. Smith spoke about his time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“You are making a difference,” Smith said. “I’ve lost three close friends who were all prisoners of war. It means a lot to me and every single one of U.S. (POWs) when we hear and see that young people are still supporting U.S. … We just got done saluting the most beautiful flag I’ve ever seen — well, second most beautiful. The most beautiful flag I’ve seen was on the back end of the tail of a C-141 on March 14, 1973, when (the U.S.) came and got me and my buddies.”
The run is not only open to AFROTC cadets or AAS/SW members; anyone in the community wanting to honor POW/MIAs is invited to join in. The run will end Sunday at 5 p.m.
Julia Marshall, a junior business administration student, served as the Silver Wings coordinator for the run and not only assisted Robertson in getting the run ready but also prepared for those not running to be entertained. There was food, drinks and other entertainment to keep morale high for anyone running.
“I’ve been relaying information to the Silver Wings members, and I’ve helped provide entertainment like Just Dance for the desk and grill stations,” Marshall said.
The first 60 runners who do six laps will receive a T-shirt with this year’s run information on it. Marshall and Cadet Michael Ressel, a sophomore in industrial engineering and representative of Arnold Air Society, are both looking to run at least six laps. Robertson is trying to go for 24, for each hour of the run.
“The first objective of this run is to have fun,” Ressel said. “The main reason we’re holding this, though, is to honor POW/MIAs. That’s our focus. It’s a running event, but also a social event. We want anyone who can to come out and run with us.”
Lt. Col. Megan Loges is the commander of the MSU AFROTC Detachment 425, and this is her last run as the cadets’ commander. She has been at MSU for three years, and she is proud of how the group has grown.
“This run shows that the cadets honor the heritage of the U.S. Armed Forces and the sacrifices made by those who didn’t get to make it home,” Loges said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the group I’ve seen grow and mature. Their futures are bright.”
This is one of the two 24-hour runs the MSU AFROTC hosts. The other is in the fall, and it is to raise awareness for the veterans and current service members who commit suicide. Like their spring run, the entire community is invited to participate.