During a recent deployment to Afghanistan, Phil Cotter B.M.E. ’10 and Seth Brown B.M.E. ’09 were brainstorming ways to honor members of the armed forces, past and present. They decided to draw on their shared history at Duke and reached out to other members of their Blue Devil ROTC battalion, all of whom are active-duty officers. Before long the idea for The Freedom 500 was hatched.
On a warm Sunday this past August, Cotter and Brown were joined by Kase Diehl ’11, Jon Harless ’09, Matt Jones ’09, Michael Meehan ’10, and Pat Thompson ’11 in the Memorial Quad, located between the Duke Chapel and the divinity school. Well-wishers cheered them on as the team set off on a 500-mile relay that would take them through Washington, D.C.—with visits to Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center—before concluding seven days later at the site of One World Trade Center in New York. Supporters ran alongside the group at various points along the way; in Durham, for example, the kick-off event included a ceremonial 5K run, and in New York, dozens of runners holding American flags aloft brought the relay to a spirited conclusion.
The week-long run raised more than $50,000 for The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization founded by Navy SEAL Eric Greitens ’06. The organization helps veterans transition to civilian life by funding six-month community service fellowships at nonprofit organizations. Since its inception in 2007, The Mission Continues has awarded more than 600 fellowships in forty-two states.