Advertisement
  1. Military

Thirty-one miles for 31 fallen: Local Gold Star father to honor the dead of Extortion 17

Jennifer and Scott Bill of St. Petersburg pose with a group of commemorative bricks honoring those who were killed in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011 along with their late son Brian Bill, a Navy Seal. The Bills are traveling to Washington DC to join other military families to honor their lost loved ones. The bricks will be carried by family members during an event called 31 miles For 31 Heroes. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Jennifer and Scott Bill of St. Petersburg pose with a group of commemorative bricks honoring those who were killed in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011 along with their late son Brian Bill, a Navy Seal. The Bills are traveling to Washington DC to join other military families to honor their lost loved ones. The bricks will be carried by family members during an event called 31 miles For 31 Heroes. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Aug. 2, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Carrying 31 bricks on a stretcher across 31 miles for 12 hours through the night is the least local Gold Star father Scott Bill can do to honor his son.

Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill, 31, a member of the Navy's elite SEAL Team 6, was among the 30 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2011 when a rocket-propelled grenade downed their Chinook helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17. A U.S. military service dog was also on board the fatal flight. It remains one of the deadliest attacks against American soldiers in the region.

Since 2012, hundreds have convened in Washington D.C. each year to keep the memory of the fallen alive by walking a symbolic 31 miles throughout the D.C. metro area, ending at Arlington National Cemetery. On Saturday, Bill will lead his own team. They plan to present an engraved brick to each of the fallen's families.

"To me, that was something much stronger and has much more meaning than just going out and walking the 31 miles," Bill said.

Participating in the walk isn't the only way Bill has paid homage to his son's legacy of service. For the last four years, he has run the Brian Bill Foundation in St. Petersburg.

The nonprofit offers groups of 10 active-duty and veteran special operations warriors a three-day therapeutic retreat at Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo covering everything from equine assisted therapy, sessions with nutritionists and sleep experts, and accelerated resolution therapy. The cost of the retreat, food, lodging and transportation are all covered.

The program doesn't end after that. Participants can do follow-up sessions free of charge with retreat psychologists and they are added to email and text groups to keep in touch with fellow warriors as they return home or to service.

This year, the nonprofit was able to add a new couples retreat program, taking into account the challenges veterans face when returning home and interacting with their families.

"I wanted to do something for the community," Bill said. "I just felt like it was my calling."

Getting the nonprofit up and running took longer than Bill expected. Fundraising was relatively new to him. His closest experience was when he served as an ambassador for the Navy SEAL Foundation. During the first year of running therapeutic programs, Bill could only do 3 or 4 programs a year for a few warriors.

Since then, the nonprofit has served 300 participants with plans to serve 100 per year. Right now the couples and warrior programs alternate each month. The goal for next year is to offer both programs at the same time.

As the nonprofit has grown to accommodate more participants it has also added more features based on participants' feedback.

Bill's wife, Jennifer, noted that many warriors coming into the retreats reported poor eating habits and trouble sleeping due to their service. It led the nonprofit to add sessions on nutrition and sleeping techniques where participants can take what they learn at the ranch and apply the tips at home.

"The job is not normal," she said. "The job needs special attention"

During the 31-mile walk on Saturday, Bill will be seeking donations for the Brian Bill Foundation, with all funds going toward the therapeutic retreats.

Terry Ford, a Navy veteran and systems engineer in Tampa who started the walk back in 2012, noted that Bill's participation, on top of his nonprofit work, is a great way to honor Brian Bill's legacy.

"His son lived to serve," Ford said.

Ford added that while a version of the walk is typically held in Tampa each year, the local walk was postponed this time until early August next year.

Once Bill returns from the nation's capital, he says he'll go right back to work managing fundraising for his warriors.

"I think we'll always be doing this," Bill said. "I know I will."

Contact Ileana Najarro at inajarro@tampabay.com. Follow @IleanaNajarro.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Sam Flores admires a new statue of his late brother, William Flores, Monday at the U.S. Coast Guard Sector, St. Petersburg. The statue honors William Flores, who helped save fellow crew members on the US Coast Guard vessel Blackthorn when it sank on January 28, 1980. Twenty three crew members died. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    A freak set of circumstances led to catastrophe the evening of Jan. 28, 1980.
  2. Jessica Purcell of St. Petersburg, a captain in the Army Reserve, was pregnant with son Jameson when she was told at a MacDill Air Force Base clinic not to worry about lumps under her arm. She now is diagnosed stage 4 cancer. Jameson is 10 months old. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    A 1950 Supreme Court ruling prohibited lawsuits against the government by military members. A new measure provides a compromise.
  3. This undated file photo provided by the FBI shows Mohammed Alshamrani. The United States is preparing to remove more than a dozen Saudi military students from a training program and return them to their home country after an investigation into a deadly shooting by Saudi aviation student Alshamrani at a Florida navy base in December 2019, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. [AP]
    Many of the 21 cadets had contact with child pornography and possessed jihadist or anti-American material, William Barr said.
  4. MacDill Air Force Base now requires all visitors looking to enter the base to show either Department of Defense ID or valid photo ID with a base pass. [Air Force photo] [HANDOUT  |  Air Force]
    U.S. installations have increased security as tensions with Iran run high, and that includes the bases and veterans’ facilities in the Tampa Bay area.
  5. MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa was briefly on lockdown Friday morning after reports of an armed person near the Tanker Way Gage. The lockdown has been lifted and all gates except the Tanker Way Gate have been lifted. [Times (2018)]
    McDill Air Force Base is investigating a report of an armed person, but a lockdown at the base has been lifted
  6. Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash among debris of the plane in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) [EBRAHIM NOROOZI  |  AP]
    The cause of the crash is currently under investigation
  7. Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession, in the city of Kerman, Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. A stampede erupted on Tuesday at a funeral procession for a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike last week, killing 35 people and injuring 48 others, state television reported. (AP Photo) [AP]
    The stampede took place in Kerman, the hometown of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as the procession got underway.
  8. Traci Lenz said this is what her kitchen vent looked like even after mold remediation at her MacDill Air Force Base home. [Courtesy of Traci Lenz]
    Over the last year, families reported mold and other problems in military housing at MacDill and other bases.
  9. A woman mourns in a demonstration over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Friday. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) [VAHID SALEMI  |  AP]
    Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed a top Iranian general.
  10. Soldiers board a C-17 aircraft Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be deployed in Iraq. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP) [MELISSA SUE GERRITS  |  AP]
    The President ordered about 750 U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepare for possible deployment in the next several days.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement