Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Warrior Kyle Arrives At The Oregon Beach

By RaeLynn Ricarte, The Dalles Chronicle

Army veteran Kyle McCullough arrived in Seaside May 14, completing a 200-mile journey that was filled with pain from blisters and shin splints but also a surprising amount of kindness from complete strangers.

McCullough, 28, set out on May 5 on a walk that began in Dufur and was intended to public awareness about the need to support deployed troops and provide funding for the Gorge Heroes Club. The local group sends monthly care packages to members of the armed forces from the Mid-Columbia region, including Kyle’s brother, USMC 1st Lt. Kristoffer “Turf” McCullough, company commander of a combat unit in Afghanistan.

Although McCullough brought in about $3,500 for the cause, he said the trek became something of an ambassadorship.

“When I first came up with this idea, I did not know it would transform into something so big,” he said. “It went from being a small and local event to something that people across the state – and even the troops in Afghanistan – have taken note of. I’ve been able to see and experience things on this walk that I would never have encountered if I had driven.”

During his travels, McCullough received daily texts, emails and phone calls of encouragement from military families, including soldiers and Marines serving in Afghanistan. He was also provided with motivational messages from Marines in Okinawa, Japan, where his brother is stationed.

He was surprised by the number of motorists who honked to boost his morale and by the offers of help when he passed through or stopped in populated areas.

“I’ve seen the good in people as they waved when they noticed the flag in my pack, asked why I was walking and listened to my story. Sometimes they thought I was homeless and offered me rides, food and money,” he said.

On May 9, McCullough took time from his walk to meet with Monica McNeal, mother of USMC Lcpl. Eric Ward, 19, who died from an IED explosion on Feb. 21, 2010, in Afghanistan. McNeal, who resides in Redmond, Wash., was in Portland on a business trip and wanted to thank the soldier for also walking to help people remember the fallen. He agreed to wear a black reminder band that listed the date of her son’s birth and death during the remaining 100 miles of the trip.

McCullough carried the heroes club Homefront “Homey” Gnome on the walk and said many people approached him just to ask about the mystical creature and what it represented.

“I did this for so many reasons but it’s everyone who chose to notice what I was doing that made the difference. Oregon is really a remarkable place and when I go back to the Army, leaving this area and people will be something I’ll hate doing,” he said.

Elks Lodge 1748 in Seaside organized a celebration for McCullough near the marker for the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He then went to rest – and shower – in a condominium donated by Mark and Shari Freeman of Mosier but will return Thursday to The Dalles to help heroes club members pack boxes at 7 p.m. Thursday in The Dalles Armory, 713 Webber Street.

McCullough’s mother, Kim, said driving the route her son had taken to deliver supplies made her realize the depth of his determination and endurance.

“The drive made me tired, I can’t imagine walking it,” she said. “I am so proud of him! What a great ‘mom’ moment.”

McCullough, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is returning to military life in the near future and said the walk was good training for the Special Forces way of life.

“To achieve anything great you have to be willing to put something out there a little,” he said. “So, a little physical discomfort is nothing.”