DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — For almost 10 months a sense of loneliness hung over Kim Kelsall following her brother’s death on Aug. 6, 2011. But as she trekked along during the first ever “Carry the Load” event on Memorial Day of 2012, her brother Jonas Kelsall came back to life through the stories his teammates shared.
“I grew up with Jonas, but they had stories I had never heard and never knew,” Kim Kelsall said. “It had been a long time since I had physically touched him. Here I was walking with these guys who served with him and wanted to talk to me about him.”
“I spend a great deal of the time since Jonas’ death feeling lonely,” she said. “But when I showed up to the event last year, I didn’t feel lonely.”
Jonas Kelsall was among the 38 men who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan after what officials believe was struck by a Taliban rocket propelled grenade. Kelsall, 32, was a lt. commander in the elite Navy SEALS, a special operations squad. Fifteen of the SEALS who died in the crash were members of Seal Team 6, the unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. Pentagon officials said none of the men in the crash had been involved in the bin Laden assault.
Following her brother’s death, Kelsall said she felt she needed to do something to remember him and honor those who had died while serving their country. She found it in Carry the Load.
Remembering Memorial Day
The organization and event, founded in 2011 by former Navy SEALs, work to remind people the reason for Memorial Day. It’s not just the first day of summer, but a holiday set aside for this country to honor the men and women who died while protecting the nation.
Kelsall made the trip to the 2012 Carry the Load event in Dallas as part of a team that walked about 35 miles in 20 hours. During the event she met SEALS who served with or knew her brother, including a founder of the organization Clint Bruce. She also met many other people who either lost a loved one in the service of the United States, wanted to honor those who served or simply desired to make a difference.
She left Dallas a different person. And with a new passion.
“When you end it, you’re totally exhausted but completely in awe of what some people did,” Kelsall said. “When I got home I immediately called Curt and said, ‘If you ever do this in the Austin area, I want to be a part of it.'”
The Burnet event
On May 25, two days before Memorial Day, Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet is hosting the Carry the Load 20.13 Ranch owner Vol Montgomery is donating the facility for the event and even cut a new trail around the stock tank for the walk. This walk, at 20.13 miles, won’t be as long as at the Dallas event, but the impact organizers believe will be just as deep and meaningful.
“The true purpose of this whole event is to bring back the meaning of Memorial Day,” Montgomery said. “I think we’ve really lost why we have this day among all the furniture sales and it’s the ‘first day of summer’ hype. And those who have served, they get frustrated when people don’t realize what the day is really for. Clint just started this because he was angry. Angry that people seemed to have forgotten.”
The concept is simple. You, your friends, your family or even complete strangers form a team, register, raise money and then show up May 25 to walk. The funds all go to local organizations geared toward helping veterans, veterans’ families and first responders.
The Burnet event at Reveille Peak Ranch, 105 CR 114, starts at 11 a.m. with a display of military and police capabilities including live and static demonstrations. Several elite Texas law enforcement units will “carry out” a drug raid on a compound using air, land and water equipment and tactics.There will be parachuting and helicopter rappelling.
Montgomery was attending an Army Ranger graduation where the elite unit demonstrates many of its capabilities. After he and organizers began planning for the Burnet’s Carry the Load 20.13, he thought a demonstration of Texas law enforcement and national guard units would give people a look at something they don’t typically get to see.
The Carry the Load 20.13 walk starts at 2 p.m. with opening ceremonies. The walk isn’t a long stretch, but completed in a series of laps around Reveille Peak’s stock tank.
Building a civilian-military connection
Candyss Bryant, who regularly works within the military world, said while the law enforcement and military demonstrations are exciting and will probably draw public interest, the real reason for the event remains the walk. And it’s not just because the event will raise funds for other organizations including one she works with, “Serve Who Serve,” but also because it opens up an opportunity for the civilian and military communities to come together and walk side by side.
“Events like this one appeal to me because the civilian community can feel very lost when it comes to interacting with the military community. And so there’s this big disconnect between the two,” she said. “This event gives a place both can come together.”
Montgomery pointed out many people who never served in the military may feel a bit lost on how they can help out or how they can support the armed forces men and women. This is one of those ways.
‘Tell me about your hero’
The beauty of this being a walk, Kelsall said, is it gives participants a chance to talk and meet people along the trail. During the 2012 event in Dallas, one of the things Kelsall treasured the most was simply the opportunity to meet people who knew her brother. The walking gave them time to share stories.
Making those connections or asking about loved one lost isn’t always something people know how to do.
The best thing a person can do on the walk or even in day-to-day life when he or she meets somebody who lost a friend, relative or loved one in the wars is ask him or her about “their hero,” Kelsall said.
“Just go up and say, ‘Tell me about your hero,'” she said. “When somebody asks you about your hero, you’ll talk about that person, that hero, for the next hour. Carry the Load helps tell the story about all these people.”
The one thing Carry the Load isn’t is a competition. It’s not about who can finish the 20.13 miles the fastest or even completing all the miles. It’s not even about completing one mile.
“It’s about the intent,” Kelsall said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t finish one mile. What matters is you came and you wanted to honor, to remember all these men and women.”
Forming a team and raising money is fairly simple. People can go to www.carrytheload.org/austin and register.
Kelsall said the best thing to do is not even worry about forming a team at first, simply sign up and then start sending out word about what you’re doing. When she did it last year, several people join Kelsall’s team after she had posted something about it on her Facebook page.
“Once you start talking about it, somebody who you never expected will join your team,” Kelsall said.
People can even donate to a team or the general cause by going to the Carry the Load website. Or, if a person doesn’t want to form your own team, he or she can join one of the current ones.
Montgomery said they hope the Burnet event will become a template for communities across the country to follow in creating their own Carry the Load programs.
Whatever the level of involvement – team captain, volunteer, donor or simply a spectator – the reason behind the event remains remembering the meaning of Memorial Day and all those it recognizes.
“(Service members) were out there doing something for me, I’m challenged to do something to remember them,” Kelsall said. “And when you come away for Carry the Load, you will probably commit to it the rest of your life.”