Words cannot begin to describe the burden Ray and Martha Goyet will carry every day of their lives.

High school sweethearts who grew up in Westbrook and then embarked on a life in the military, they looked on with pride as their son, Mark, enlisted in the Marines right out of his Texas high school in 2008.

And then, three years later, they watched in horror as his flag-draped casket came home from Afghanistan.

He’d volunteered for the deployment, his second to a war zone. Two months later, he died from small arms fire during an ambush on his convoy in Helmand Province.

“Civilians read about it, they hear about it, but it’s like in a different life,” said Ray Goyet, who retired last fall after 38 years in the Navy, in a telephone interview on Friday. “It doesn’t impact them.”

The man knows of what he speaks. For the vast majority of Americans, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq required no personal sacrifice, no loss of a loved one, no heavy lifting whatsoever.

Greg Johnson, a Marine veteran determined to keep names like Mark Goyet’s front and center in our collective memory, has a plan to change that.

On Saturday, May 7, Johnson invites civilians far and wide to bring a backpack down to East End Beach in Portland, load it up with however much weight you think you can handle and then set out on the Husky Ruck Memorial 10K around the Eastern Promenade and Back Cove in honor of Mainers who lost their lives while serving in the military.

Why? Two reasons.

One is to spend a few hours feeling the weight, literally, that extended families like the Goyets – “Ninety percent of them are in Greater Portland,” said Ray – continue to bear while the rest of the world shakes off the Iraq and Afghanistan wars like a pair of bad dreams.

The other is to raise money, via the Corporal Mark Goyet Memorial Foundation, for scholarships to benefit military veterans at the University of Southern Maine.

Johnson, who will graduate from USM next month with a degree in criminology, first connected with the Goyets through Johnson’s work with The Summit Project.

Founded in 2013 by Marine Maj. David Cote of Waterville, the project honors 77 members of the military with Maine connections who have died serving their country since 9/11.

Each is commemorated with a rock, engraved with the deceased’s initials, retrieved from a place that was special to that person. Family members, friends and volunteers take the rocks on annual hikes up Mount Katahdin and on other excursions to keep the memories of the fallen alive.

Mark Goyet’s rock, one of The Summit Project’s first, came from a pile accumulated over the years by his grandfather on the family’s property in Westbrook where Mark once played as a young boy.

“Mark’s was the first stone I carried up Katahdin,” explained Johnson, who never met his fellow Marine but still came away wanting to do more in his memory.

Last year, Goyet’s parents created the foundation in Mark’s name to, among other things, help returning veterans pursue their education upon leaving the military.

Upon learning of that, Johnson approached the powers that be at USM with his idea for the ruck – normally a military training exercise, only this one would be for civilians.

Worth noting here is that Military Friendly, a rating service operated by Victory Media Inc., recently named USM one of the top 25 public colleges and universities in the country when it comes to how it treats its student veterans.

It shows.

The USM Foundation has already kicked in $2,500 toward expenses for the Husky Ruck Memorial 10K, according to foundation President George Campbell. What’s more, Campbell said Friday, the university’s scholarship fund will match the total amount raised by the event.

“These (veteran) students are just amazing,” said Campbell. “We’re excited.”

So is Johnson, who deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan during his 10 years as a Marine.

He’s lined up a 30-by-50-foot American flag that flew over both the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and at Ground Zero in Manhattan to be raised over the start-finish line.

He’s enlisted Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck to serve as keynote speaker.

He’s landed a sponsorship from Student Veterans of America, which will send representatives from Washington, D.C.

He’ll even have The Summit Project’s rocks, including Cpl. Mark Goyet’s, on hand should anyone be looking to add some truly meaningful weight to their rucksack.

What he needs are more Mainers who have long said they “support our troops” but have never exactly broken a sweat doing it. To join the 80-plus who have already registered, or to donate, go to facebook.com/HuskyRuckMemorial10K.

“While this is a race, the emphasis is not on competition,” said Johnson. “The emphasis is about bringing the community here together, challenging yourself, helping people to your left and to your right if you see them struggling, getting everybody through it and carrying forth the legacy that Mark believed in.”

That legacy is embedded in the Gold Star rings that Ray and Martha Goyet now wear in honor of their son.

“He actually had nine months left in his enlistment and he was done. He didn’t have to do any more deployments,” recalled Ray Goyet. “His goal was to use the GI bill to go to school and come back (into the Marines) as an officer.”

But then Mark heard that the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, decimated by casualties from a previous deployment, was looking for volunteers to return with the unit to Afghanistan. And so he stepped forward.

“He said he had brothers who had been killed in action or who had suffered traumatic injuries and he felt he owed it to them,” his father said. “You want to say, ‘No, no, no. You’re done. You’re safe.’ But you can’t argue with that logic. You have to respect that.”

Ray and Martha Goyet will travel here next week from their home in Virginia Beach for the Husky Ruck Memorial 10K. Greg Johnson will be first in line to greet them.

“It’s extremely tough to understand what these families are going through unless you experience it yourself,” Johnson said. “We can imagine, but that’s the best we can do.”

Or we can help shoulder the load.

 


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