One year ago, JROTC instructor Karl Knutsen took the challenge.
Could he rally enough community support in three days to properly cheer on “Run for the Fallen,” a national tribute race honoring soldiers killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom?
With the help of the Manteca Police Department and the cadets in the East Union JROTC program, he did.
Approximately 60 students, including the color guard, followed the runners through Manteca and into Tracy that day.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion arranged for a few squad cars to be parked along the route, Knutsen said.
“It went off without a hitch,” he said with his booming voice. “We showed up in full force. … You had moms and dads, friends and color guard standing at attention.”
“Run for the Fallen” will return to this part of the Central Valley on Saturday, traveling through Manteca along Airport Way.
The running route will be lined with hero markers at every mile. Each marker honors soldiers who gave their lives in the conflicts the followed the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Among those honored and remembered are Marine Corporal Charles Palmer II, a Manteca High alum, and Navy Petty Officer James Layton of Riverbank.
Once again, Knutsen hasn’t left himself very much time to solicit support.
Three days, in fact.
But that speaks nothing about his passion for the cause or his country.
Knutsen – a tall, energetic man with a proportionate personality – is unapologetically patriotic. Though he’s been retired from active duty Army now for 20 years, Knutsen proudly boasts “I’m a Sgt. First Class 24-7, 365 days a year … even right now.”
He’s a longtime volunteer with the Flags Over Manteca program and has actively pushed city leaders to keep those flags clean and well maintained.
Members of his JROTC program participated in the Memorial Day festivities at East Union Cemetery.
“We give back to the community,” he said. “… I want my kids to be active in the community. I only get them for nine months.”
Knutsen is calling on community leaders and JROTC programs at other area high schools to join him and his students on Saturday afternoon.
East Union JROTC will stage a cheer section at the corner of Airport Way and Louise Avenue around noon. The runners are expected to cross through that intersection at 12:30 p.m. The team of runners travel by caravan with a pair of runners logging five or so miles at a time.
He hopes to top last year’s turnout. Knutsen says he’s invited officials with the fire and police departments, as well as secured 50 flags from the City of Manteca.
“I’m a fired-up individual,” Knutsen said. “Once you turn me on, you can’t turn me off.
“We’ve got the flags ready to go. I’m locked and loaded. I’m inviting all the kids from the other schools to show up, too.
“If you’re at home and you’re a veteran, you’re going to want to be out here,” he added. “You’re going to want to stand by one of those flags. You’re going to want to see this.”