Marines honor their brother with 160-mile run

By Sara Bruestle | Jun 20, 2012
Sgt. Milan Franklin, second from right, walks with his fellow Marines who are also amputees. Franklin lost both of his legs in Afghanistan.

A U.S. Marine from Mukilteo is running an American flag more than 50 miles in the desert to raise funds for a wounded fellow Marine.

Sgt. Tyler Chittick is leading a charity run on June 29 from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in south Orange County to 29 Palms Marine Corps Base, located in Southern California’s Mohave Desert. That’s about 160 miles.

The run is a fundraiser for Sgt. Milan Franklin, of Tacoma, who was injured after an IED detonated on him in Afghanistan. He lost both of his legs and half of his right hand.

Chittick talked the fundraiser over with Franklin, and they decided that this is what Marines do.

“I wanted to do something crazy and tough and Marine Corp-like and really go through a lot of hell to bring some honor and some respect to an incredible man, an incredible Marine,” Chittick said.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m up at Camp Pendleton, you’re up at 29 Palms, why don’t I take some boys and run a flag up to you?’”

Chittick didn’t want to run it alone, so he enlisted the help of some other Marines who didn’t even know Franklin when they signed on for the run. At first, they asked Chittick if he was crazy.

After all, why would they want to run that far in the summer heat of the Mojave Desert just before the Fourth of July?

“I told them the kind of Marine that Milan is and what happened to him and that I wanted to raise funds for his family and support him, that he’s a hell of a guy and he deserves it. And they’re like, ‘Of course, let’s go do this.’”

Chittick and five other Marines are carrying an American flag on a pole almost all uphill, non-stop, in 100-plus degrees in Franklin’s honor.

They’ll run in teams of two for an hour, and then rotate in and out. At a steady 6 mph, about the pace of a jog, they estimate it will take them about 30 hours. Each team will run just over 53 miles.

A truck will follow them throughout the course, so that they can rest, hydrate and get out of the sun.

“It’s a terrible idea,” Chittick said. “It’s up there in the Morongo Valley, it’s all just really hot. I’m stupid for doing this, but it’s not about me. It’s all worth it to do it for him.”

Franklin enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2008. Three years later, he was already on his second deployment to Afghanistan.

In 2011, Franklin was leading his squad back to base when he got a bad feeling about the path they were on. Franklin’s gut was telling him to get off the path – now – but they were almost back, so he treaded forward. Then an IED exploded.

Franklin lost his left leg about 4 inches below the knee, his right leg about 6 inches from the hip, two fingers on his right hand, one testicle and some teeth. Both of his hands were severely fractured.

He’s now at 29 Palms, focusing on his recovery. The recovery is slow, but steady. He said it helps that he has friends and family supporting him.

“All the doctors say you’ll hit a bump, where you get really upset about it, and I’m feeling it,” he said. “Some days I go to physical therapy and it’s like, ‘Why the hell am I here?’

“But my injuries really aren’t that bad. There are guys who are way worse than I am.”

It was important to Franklin that Chittick turn the run into an annual event so that they can raise funds for other Marines in need. Once this fundraiser is over, they’ll select a new honoree.

“We’ll give the next face to the next charity, and just keep this thing rolling year after year,” Chittick said.

Franklin’s goal is to run with the Marines in a future charity run, once he gets used to running on his prosthetics.

“Amputee people do it all the time in marathons,” he said. “There’s no reason I couldn’t do it.”

He said he’d like to be on Chittick’s team. They’ve been friends for four years. They were in boot camp, infantry training and did guard duty at Camp Pendleton together.

So far, Pendleton-to-the-Palms has raised $1,200. The funds will go toward Franklin and his family. He'll need prosthetic work and multiple surgeries, and the Marines want to help out.

For more on the charity run and to donate, go to www.pendletontothepalms.com.

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