EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — No one noticed Marissa De Mirelle strap on a ruck and bring its journey into Rhode Island.
She was alone on a dusty road in South County, in red, white and blue socks, with a flag on one shoulder and the pack on her back.
‘Ruck’ is a military term for a backpack, and also means a march with a pack, and De Mirelle and many others are doing exactly that for a Ruck Across America journey to raise money for Warrior 360.
“I’m walking 18 miles with a ruck. Big deal!” De Mirelle said. “There are people literally giving everything for us. It’s a reminder every time I put on a ruck that a soldier has no choice. They’re carrying a lot more weight, and risking their lives.”
“The fact that anyone can express their opinions is what makes America great. It’s why our soldiers fight. It’s why they put themselves on the line.”
Inside this particular ruck are momentos from the many others who carried it.
“All kinds of bands people wore,” De Mirelle said after opening up the pack. “A golf ball from New York. A championship ring. Hope it’s a replica.”
Turns out it was a replica, from a New York Yankees win. A rucker apparently wanted it to join the journey.
- Learn more about how Warrior 360 helps the families of veterans
- More details about Ruck Across America
As De Mirelle’s steps went from the dirt road to the asphalt of route 102, she explained who she was walking for, in addition to the families who will benefit from money raised for Warrior 360.
“I’m walking for him,” she said, pointing to a ribbon with the name Salvator “Sammy” Aiello on it. “Sammy doesn’t come to any of our family gatherings anymore. He was blown apart when he stepped on a land mine in Vietnam.”
She continued talking to the sound of supportive honks from cars, and waves from drivers and passengers. She waived back, recalling what Sammy and all soldiers miss when they don’t come home.
“He never made any of the landmarks in life that we make,” she said. “Never got married. Never had kids. Never got to do the things that we do.”
As De Mirelle’s ruck continued, a veteran stopped to say thank you at mile eight.
Then, after about 10 more miles, it was time for her to pass the ruck to the much different terrain of Cranston Street, where one woman put the pack on and another grabbed the flag pole.
It was a quick transition that mirrors the rapid response and help provided by Warrior 360.
“Home repair, medical expenses. Vehicle,” she said. “They don’t have to wait. Warrior 360 can step in and help them right away.”
A passer by asked if the women were weight lifters.
“We’re not weight lifters, we’re ruckers,” she said. “This is in honor of all of our military vets.”
He nodded his head and smiled to a, “Thank you! Have a good day.”
Her arm was marked with the names of more than a dozen veterans.
“I’ve got a couple of guys I graduated with. Kyle Smith. Julie Verrone. My cousin’s on my back, Derek Davenport,” she said.
As the ruck entered Providence, she said how great it felt to carry the stars and stripes on the journey.
“Walking with the flag is incredibly important especially today,” she said. “But what everybody needs to remember is the fact that we can walk with the flag, the fact that anyone can express their opinions is what makes America great. It’s why our soldiers fight. It’s why they put themselves on the line.”
This Ruck Across America, which started in February, has a goal to hit 50 states. From Rhode Island, it would then move into Massachusetts, slightly heavier with a few extra momentos, but with the same powerful purpose.Email Walt at email@example.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.