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Ernest Hooper: Carrying the load for those who carry it for us, as troops and first responders

Published May 9, 2018

Carry the load.

The three simple words can mean so much.

In sports, it speaks to leadership and performance. LeBron James is carrying the load for the Cleveland Cavaliers and building his legacy as one of the greatest.

With family, it means unconditional love and unwavering support. A single parent may carry the load by working two jobs while playing chauffeur, cook and nursemaid.

In friendship, it means being a sounding board and clearing house. I'm reminded of the 10,000 Maniacs' Trouble Me.

Trouble me, disturb me with all your cares and your worries.

With veterans, it's more difficult to define. We put magnets on our cars and flags in front of our homes, we take moments at contests to stand and cheer, but carrying the load for veterans, first responders and the fallen can and should represent more — particularly when it comes to Memorial Day.

That motivation drove former Navy SEALS Clint Bruce and Stephen Holley to start the national nonprofit organization Carry the Load seven years ago. They sought to bring back meaning to Memorial Day, and one of the most visual aspects of their efforts will be on display Saturday along Bayshore Boulevard.

More than 500 supporters will meet at Ferg's Live at 8 a.m. and embark on a 5K Ruck/March that salutes military, law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and their families.

Many will make the trek wearing heavily-weighted backpacks. Others will bear a picture or a memento that symbolizes their loss.

All will literally "carry the load."

"It's an incredible sight to see," said Andrew Pfeiffer, a vice president with Chase Tampa Bay and the head of the company's Veterans Resource Business Group.

"We've grown this event over the last couple of years to something truly memorable. Last year, we had 500 people carrying flags, military members dressed in gear, loved ones carrying photos, all paying honor to the sacrifice made by those no longer with us."

Chase is one of the biggest supporters of Carry the Load locally and nationally. Here in Tampa Bay, Pfeiffer said, it employs more than 200 people who are veterans or veteran supporters.

After serving for several years in the Florida National Guard, Pfeiffer wanted to find another avenue of service. Chase's veterans group gave him that, but to be clear, this isn't a Chase event.

"I want it to be inclusive of all organizations and citizens," Pfeiffer said.

After the 5K, those employees will join with others and return to Ferg's to celebrate and raise money for the nonprofit's three programs. You see, what started as a Memorial Day tribute to the fallen has morphed to include more than just the one holiday. Carry The Load works to honor heroes every day.

Its efforts involve raising funds to support nonprofits involved in a "continuum of care" for military and first responders. It also seeks to promote education about patriotism.

Patriotism can be a dicey word, but at its core is a critical element: appreciation, care and really love for those who have carried the load for our nation. Politics and differing perspectives shouldn't blur that.

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Ultimately, what should "carry the load" mean when it comes to veterans and the family and friends who endure their sacrifice. Perhaps it should mean leading them to victory, delivering unconditional love and allowing them to trouble us.

When you weigh what they've given us, we should be able to give that much in return.

That's all I'm saying.


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