Wounded Warriors Tackle Monument Run with Crown Prince of Denmark
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Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, front right, speaks with Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Ferrell in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Sept. 28, 2016. Frederik, wounded veterans from Denmark and the United States, military members and their families ran 3.8 miles around the National Mall. DoD photo by EJ Hersom
Though joggers and cyclists abound in the nation’s capital, 15 active duty U.S. wounded warriors participated today in a more distinctive show of athleticism: a leisurely early morning “Monument Run” with Danish royalty.
Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark -- accompanied by four Danish wounded warriors, several of the prince’s government ministers and the U.S. ambassador to Denmark -- joined about 15 U.S. service members to connect and thank them for their service and sacrifice.
Along the route of about 3.8 miles, which began at the Jefferson Memorial and concluded at the rear steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Prince Frederik candidly chatted with the volunteer runners who hailed from across the services.
Combat veteran Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris Ferrell of the 11th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal flight at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, described how different life has been since his treacherous time in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, when several explosions went off within 5 feet of him, killing his teammates and hurtling him some 15 feet into a wall.
He has since relied on physical therapy and adaptive sports through the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program to best manage the traumatic brain injury, nerve damage, cognitive damage and hearing loss he suffered as a result of the blasts.
“I wear a hearing aid kind of like an old man now, … but not when I run -- I might lose it,” he said, smiling. “I am 32, but I may feel like I’m 55 or 60.”
Meeting the Prince
Still, he described his time jogging alongside the prince as “surreal” compared to mere images and interviews of the royal family and their staff members.
“Being able to run with the crown prince is just a magical experience,” Ferrell said. “He’s just a super wonderful guy, and the entire Danish staff is amazing.”
The airman recounted exchanging stories with the prince about their families, and Ferrell made particular mention of his own sons, whom he playfully described as “a little wild.” The prince shared his perspective of Danish culture and encouraged Ferrell and his family to take their “bucket list” trip to Denmark one summer.
An Emotional Investment
That comfort in banter and candor, Ferrell said, speak to the character of the dignitary.
“When you have someone at that high a level who is so emotionally invested in the veterans -- in Denmark and in the United States -- able to come out here and spend time with us, … it shows what he really cares about, where his heart really lies,” Ferrell said. “I’m a big family person, and to me, family isn’t only blood – everybody that I’ve been able to serve with, that I’ve been able to be a part of, that’s what reinforces me today.”
A Family Affair
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Isaac Gallegos also holds family in high esteem, so much so that he invited his father, retired Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Phillip Gallegos, to run with him.
“After leaving active service, being able to see the alliances that we still have with the great country of the Danish, it’s nice to be able to be able to let our hair down and have time like what we had this morning, where we can keep growing the camaraderie,” the elder Gallegos said.
His son agreed.
“He’s a down-to-earth guy, a regular person. … He just has a lot more responsibilities, and I’m looking forward to our current and future endeavors with Denmark,” the younger Gallegos remarked.
After the run, participants joined the royal family at the Danish Embassy for breakfast, the latest gesture in a growing bond between the two nations, a bond that was solidified during Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, in May, as well as during the Danish wounded warriors’ recent visit to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)