FROM STAFF REPORTS
Aurora -- Local resident and Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy senior Mitch Gilley has a passion for the military that goes beyond his desire to serve as a combat arms officer.
Gilley, a standout student-athlete at CVCA, is not only an all-state and Academic All-American lacrosse player, chairman of his National Honor Society chapter and director of the school's recycling program, but is a driven young man eager to educate the community about an important cause benefiting military families.
He supports the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty.
CFPF works to ensure that every child of Gold Star families receives the necessary funding to pursue his or her dream of a college education.
Gilley's current fundraising effort for Children of Fallen Patriots is focused on organizing and co-chairing a memorial ruck event in partnership with CARC.
The event -- "Help Carry the Burden" -- intends to be a fun but challenging and competitive military-style ruck workout Oct. 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Munroe Falls Metro Park.
"The emotional and financial burden left to our military families, who I think have made the ultimate sacrifice, is something I feel strongly about helping to raise awareness for," he said.
"These are kids, much like myself, who have big dreams for the future, but now face life without a parent. I can't imagine their pain and loss, but I know I can do something to help."
GILLEY'S vision to organize a fall fundraiser for Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation began more than a year ago when he started participating in weekly ruck workouts with the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew.
Working to prepare for the physical rigor of cadet life at either a service academy o senior military college, Gilley wanted to get a jump-start on challenging himself mentally and physically for such a high demand/high stress environment.
"A lot of people are unfamiliar with rucking events. The sport focuses on physical and mental training, along with team building, by taking a group of people and putting them together to take on physical and mental obstacles," he explained.
"During our events we ruck [backpack with weight] and often carry other miscellaneous items as a team while performing weighted and unweighted exercises.
"Sometimes we carry a teammate or a fallen log -- anything that takes us out of our comfort zone and pushes the limits of what we think we are capable of. Then we're going to do it."
With the ultimate goal of raising vital funding to assist with college tuition for surviving military children, Gilley equally hopes to identify new families that may benefit from services and resources the organization provides.
"When I thought about putting together a fundraiser for surviving military children, the connection made sense," Gilley said. "I thought a memorial ruck fundraiser would symbolize carrying someone else's burden.
"RAISING FUNDS and awareness for Gold Star children is a meaningful way that all of us can invest in their legacy, honor their loss and help to carry the burden after a death of a parent."
Inspired by his father Greg, a 1990 West Point graduate, Gilley also plans to pursue military service by either gaining an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy or through an Army ROTC scholarship to Virginia Tech, a senior military college.
As an attendee at this year's highly selective West Point Summer Leadership Experience, where only 1,000 applicants are selected from a pool of nearly 6,000, Gilley officially confirmed that an academic institution focused on a mix of military training, physical fitness and rigorous academic classes was his intended direction after high school.
"I had a few great experiences over the summer between West Point's SLE program and Buckeye Boys State [sponsored by Aurora American Legion Post 803] that really showed me my interest and passion for a military career is ultimately about public service.
"Both experiences really confirmed my motivation. I want to lead and inspire those around me to be difference makers whether serving our country or the local community."
For more details about the Help Carry The Burden Memorial Ruck Event, visit www.helpcarrytheburden.eventbrite.com, where one can pre-register to participate or simply donate.
No money can be taken on-site the day of the event. The public also can learn more about the needs and issues facing children of fallen soldiers at www.fallenpatriots.org