Friday, January 19, 2007

Walking To Support The Military

On Nov. 9, aware of the United States' war effort, Craig Breiner got an idea — walk 50 miles, carrying an American flag, in support of the military and veterans. Two days later, on Veterans Day, Breiner stepped off the Belmar boardwalk, with the Atlantic Ocean behind him and the Delaware River and Trenton ahead of him. "I had no preparation," said Breiner, 30, who lives in a Windmill Club townhouse in Howell."It was a spur of the moment, last second thing." "I was about ready to have a baby, any day," said his wife, Brooke, 28. "I didn't want him to go. He went anyway." A baby boy, Christian, arrived three days later, Nov. 14. Breiner also has a daughter, Emily, 6. As for Breiner, he did not arrive — instead petering out along the Manalapan-Millstone Township boundary, or about 38 miles and 9 1/2 hours into the walk. "I was moving 'til the last two miles," Breiner said. "Then, my knee . . ." "I have a bad knee," Breiner added, explaining he injured his right knee in a Marine Corps training accident. "I wear a knee brace." Breiner served as a Marine from 1999 to 2003. He was recalled to duty in 2004 to 2005, including about seven months in Iraq. He is now considered an inactive reservist.The Marine is going to try again, Saturday — starting in Belmar at 16th Avenue and the boardwalk at 6 a.m., aiming to end at the Statehouse in Trenton around 7 p.m. The November walk was his longest ever, with 32-mile hike while a Marine in second place. Breiner's November walk was prompted in part by a comment a few days earlier by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry said: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." Some viewed the comment as suggesting military members were uneducated or not smart, while Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, had said his remark was a "botched joke" referring to President Bush's smarts. "I don't care how he said it, he still said it," Breiner said. Also, according to Breiner, much talk of the Iraq War is negative, forgetting the good being done by American troops, such as creating democracy there. "Something's got to be done," Breiner said. "I pondered what to do. (It) just popped into my head to do a walk." While in Iraq, Breiner met two boys, one about 9 years old without a hand and another, about 13, missing an ear, he said. Breiner said the boys, reportedly, were dismembered because family members worked as translators for American troops. "The 9-year-old said, one day, he's going to be president of a free Iraq," Breiner said.In November, Breiner sought no publicity. He walked by himself, with his family a cellular telephone call away. Along the way, people noticed the man presenting the 3 1/2-foot by 6-foot flag on a 6-foot staff and shouldering a backpack. Attached to the backpack was a sign, "Walking from Belmar to Trenton in support of our troops." Vets saluted him and people with family stationed in Iraq photographed him, both inspiring him to walk again. On Saturday, he will have family members driving along as a support crew. This time, there has been some publicity. John Giunco, 78, an Army veteran of the Korean War and a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4374 in Freehold Township, said publicity gained from the walk is "probably good (and) can't do any harm." "I've been getting a lot of phone calls, e-mails, that people are going to join me (walking)," Breiner said. "I would love them to join me." In Trenton, a candlelight nondenominational prayer service on the steps of the Statehouse is planned, along with a moment of silence for all American troops killed in action, no matter what war, Breiner said."Support our troops?" said Tony Modzelewski, 66, past commandant of the Corporal Philip A. Reynolds Detachment of the Marine Corps League, based in the Freehold area. "I think he's doing a great job, then. We can always use awareness of what's going on." "Frankly, I couldn't walk 10 miles, but I think I've got a few years on him," said Giunco, 78. Time will tell if Breiner completes the walk. There is the distance, walking with an unnatural gait while displaying the flag, the flag caught in a breeze, and plans to work on Friday at his full-time day job — at Air Cruisers, a Wall aircraft equipment company, where he is a technician — and to 10 p.m at his part-time job — as a security guard at Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold Township. But Breiner, who has worked as a special police officer during summers in Belmar since 1997, acted determined. "Rain, shine, snow," Breiner said, explaining troops have to deal with all kinds of weather. "Weather's not going to play a factor. "This time, I think I'm going to try to set a steady pace and stick with it," Breiner said.