“I served, got out of war, and still had both of my legs,” said Mr. Mark Wester, a former sergeant in the U.S. Marines. “I have to remind myself that I am leading a normal life while others are not.” Remembering the countless U.S. veterans who have served is very important to Mr. Wester, and he is able to fulfill this through Carry the Load, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing Americans an interactive way to honor and celebrate Memorial Day in dedication to those who sacrifice daily for us.
The Carry the Load organization allows people to literally “carry the load” of those serving in war by taking up a military pack and walking a certain amount of miles every Memorial Day. This not only symbolizes the endurance experienced by those who are serving, but also allows individuals and groups to pay homage to those people. Carry the Load also places great emphasis on delivering the donations that they receive directly to the intended recipients rather than staff or other expenses, a difference from other organizations such as the Wounded Warrior Project.
Another mission of Carry the Load is to provide funding and support to various other non-profit organizations, such as Tip of the Spear Foundation. Whenever Tip of the Spear is signed up as a benefactor for Carry the Load, they typically receive decent returns. Tip of the Spear takes those donations and uses them to bridge the gap between the time when those serving or the families of those serving have a need, and the time when government funding can actually arrive. This can be as simple as enabling the cooking of stateside meals for service members having a rough deployment. However, the greater intention for the funding is to provide support in the interim between a grievous injury or loss of life and when benefits from either a department, agency, or the government actually begin to help the family.
Mr. Wester got involved with the Tip of the Spear Foundation when he ran into a fellow graduate of his, Pat Dossett, who started the foundation. He stated, “I looked into Carry the Load and found that the whole point was to reclaim the meaning of Memorial Day. It’s not about a mattress sale, or having a day off of work. It’s not about it being the day after senior graduation, and it’s not about barbecues. It’s about realizing that there are a small percentage of men and women who have signed a blank check to the government to hopefully do the right thing in defense of the country for their service.”
Mr. Wester then praised the spirit of Carry the Load, saying, “It brings both a family-oriented and individual focus to first responders who have been killed or injured doing their job. It points to civic duty and the sacrifice that these people have put forth.” Joining a team for Carry the Load under Tip of the Spear, Mr. Wester deems the cause “the calling he was looking for,” and started fundraising that year, raising around $2000 for the team. Along with this fundraising, he also walked about 28 miles with a 10-15 lb pack. “What I liked most about the event is the spirit, teamwork, and dedication involved with it,” added Mr. Wester. “This is my way to raise awareness, money, and help.” Last year, Mr. Wester decided to place greater emphasis on putting forth participation and time rather than fundraising, walking about 42 miles in 20 hours, “carrying the load” for a former student whom he was commissioned and deployed with, one of his former Marines who was commissioned and deployed, and one of the Sergeants with whom he served. This year, Mr. Wester is “carrying the load” for his great-uncle Gilbert Wester, a USMC veteran of the WWII Pacific Theater who recently passed away.
For this upcoming Memorial Day, Carry the Load has opened registration early in January, allowing Mr. Wester to garner more participation and interest for the event. He said, “This year, my intent with fundraising is to take it to the next level. Last year I was able to raise $2000, this year I’m aiming for $5000. My goal isn’t to ask individual people for money, rather organizations that I can fund-raise at.” Mr. Wester asserted, “I wouldn’t necessarily want Jesuit students to donate $2, I want Jesuit students to point me to an organization where I can speak at, talk to, and generate fundraising from.”
Personally, Mr. Wester believes that Carry the Load conveys an important message, stating, “This really speaks to me as a veteran. I’m here, and I’m okay. I came back. I’m not there now. I’m reaping all the wonderful benefits of everybody who is still giving more than I did, and this is my way, on their day, to raise awareness.” Mr. Wester hopes that Carry the Load will allow people to “stop and reflect about something that has a greater impact than what they can see and what hasn’t personally affected them.” In terms of what he would like Jesuit students to know, he stated, “It is an excellent way to give back. Money isn’t the important thing, what is more important is awareness and participation.”