Early on the morning of September 30, over 125 runners met on the beach to remember Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Weathers, a 7th Special Forces Group soldier who was killed in Afghanistan three years earlier.
The group of racers and their friends and family gathered quietly in front of the Crab Trap, where 45 American flags were placed in the sand, one for every Army 7th Special Forces Group soldier killed since September 11, 2001.
Weathers’ niece and nephew sang the national anthem, and organizers presented an honor flag to the family of another fallen 7th Group soldier, Army Staff Sgt. Mark De Alencar, who died in combat in April.
Next, the racers took their marks and set off for a 5K run along the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Many carried large American flags.
“It was so inspiring to see the wonderful turnout to remember Andrew and honor all the soldiers who have given their lives to protect our freedoms,” said Mike Weathers, Andrew’s father. “We want all families of fallen soldiers to know their loved ones will never be forgotten, just like Andrew.”
This is the third year the Andrew Weathers Memorial Foundation has hosted its Never Forget Run fundraiser, and the first time they held one in Northwest Florida, where Andrew Weathers was stationed with the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Weathers was killed in action in Afghanistan on September 30, 2014, while defending against a Taliban attack. He was 30 years old.
Over 8,000 highly trained U.S. military Special Operations personnel are deployed in more than 80 countries across the globe at any time. This includes the Army’s Special Forces, known as the Green Berets. Special Operations make up about five percent of the U.S. military, but have accounted for over half the U.S. military casualties since 2015, according to a recent report in The New York Times.
The Andrew Weathers Memorial Foundation began in 2015 when Andrew’s parents, Mike and Carrie Weathers, still reeling from their loss, decided to try to make a difference for other families of fallen soldiers.
In the tumultuous days after they learned the news of their son’s death, his body was returned to the states and he was buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery. After the ceremony, the family traveled over 1,000 miles back to their home in Ball, Louisiana, unsure when they would be able to be by their son’s graveside again.
They soon realized the Army didn’t have a program to help families return to Arlington to visit their loved ones’ graves. They wanted to help.
Since then, the organization has raised over $95,000 and sent four families on trips to Arlington, including airfare, lodging, food and more.
This year’s fundraising effort far exceeded last year’s total of $8,000, and organizers hope the foundation will only continue to grow.
“We felt driven to do this and hope that we are able to make a difference in many more families’ lives,” said Carrie Weathers.
Sponsors of the event included Crab Trap Destin, Dog Tag Brewing, 8 Fifty Productions, the Hooker Nation Podcast, BrandBoss Creative, Honor & Remember, All Weathers Arms and Jay’s Guns. International Running Co. was instrumental in assisting with race setup and more.
Saltwater Restaurants Inc., Joan and Stephen Carter, Marlin Grill, Mitch Clabeaux, Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, Junior League, the 30A Company, BOTE Board, All Weather Arms, YETI, Marriott, Brotula’s, Timber Creek Spirits and My Vacation Haven provided auction items.
Besides its work for families of fallen soldiers, the foundation also accepts applications for any kind of support for Special Forces soldiers or their families. Learn more and donate to the cause at rememberandy.org.
– Jordan Lacenski
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