A chance meeting with Race for a Soldier founder Leslie Mayne got Sgt. Mark McGinn an invitation to speak Friday morning during the event’s Prayer Breakfast. Orders that sent him to Afghanistan delayed his acceptance for a year.
McGinn, now retired from the U.S. Marine Corps, will be one of four to share their stories as part of the festivities that surround the half-marathon. The Prayer Breakfast will be held from 7 to 9 a.m. at the Boys & Girls Club, 8502 Skansie Ave., Gig Harbor. The race will be held Sunday.
“Our Prayer Breakfast is a safe place for soldiers to share their stories,” Mayne said. “I met Mark and instantly knew he was one to be able to articulate his experience and be able to share his journey as a Marine and be part of our mission to help servicemen returning from deployment.”
McGinn retired last May. He, his wife Molly and their four children settled in Gig Harbor after they moved around the states as a military family.
McGinn had been deployed in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan during his years of service. Mayne told him about Race to a Soldier and how it helps servicemen create awareness and raise funds for alternative therapies for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and McGinn wanted to get involved.
“Doing what I can for military families is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “So many military families are affected physically and emotionally after serving.”
McGinn said the military is doing great things, including “detox” when soldiers come back home, but sometimes it isn’t enough. He wants to help with any message that encourages soldiers to reconnect and reintegrate into society.
McGinn feels military support has waned and wants to see communities re-energize, embrace returning soldiers and let them know their service was worthwhile.
“As time has gone by, I see tattered flags, worn out support signs, military coming home not thanked for their service,” McGinn said. “I hope, from my message at the Prayer Breakfast, people understand our communities can’t drift from the support of the military.”
Characteristics that make a great serviceman also can hinder the ability reach out and ask for help, he said. McGinn wants to help change that as part of his story for Race for a Soldier. He recognized the need for their family to create an awareness, come together better and utilize one of the therapies the race sponsors.
“When you get back from deployment, it’s an adjustment,” McGinn said. “After this last deployment, I was more aware of the family dynamics and the challenge it is to re-enter family life.”
Molly McGinn said it’s become more of a challenge for them to re-assimilate into their family roles as their children have gotten older.
“The kids see dad as a hero but have underlying resentment for him missing important family events,” she said. “As a married couple, we could Skype but talk about nothing, not even the weather. If I knew Mark was having a bad day, we couldn’t talk or confide in each other.”
Molly felt the need to downplay her excitement about family events and the kids’ milestones so she didn’t add to Mark’s stress. Those communication challenges created a disconnect once Mark returned home.
Recognizing the family dynamics were out of sync, McGinn thought it was important to experience what was offered through Race for a Soldier. He and his wife chose Rainier Therapeutic Riding, a program that uses horses to promote a range of physical and emotional healing for servicemen and their families.
“We did the equine therapy as a family,” Mark said. “It was eye-opening. It brought to light what was internal and normally would not have been discussed. It was a way to dig up some buried emotions we needed to bring up and heal.”
Taking time to express feelings and being vulnerable is something the family learned as they went through the equine therapy.
“In the exercises, only one person could talk and give directions,” Molly said. “Horses were so intuitive to our feelings. If I was quiet, they would approach me. When they sensed tension, they would move away.”
“I saw when I was patient and listened, not only the horses but our kids responded to us better,” Mark said. “We are still processing all we learned and what we need to do as a family.”
Molly and the children participated in the 2-mile race last year to support Mark while he was deployed.
“I was in awe,” Molly said. “This race is incredible. It’s beyond words. You have to show up to see it. It’s an embracing situation with an energized, supportive crowd behind our military.”
All of the McGinns plan to participate in the 2-mile race this year, and Mark will speak during the Prayer Breakfast.
The McGinns want the Race for a Soldier mission to spread beyond Gig Harbor.
“The awareness and programs available is vital to helping our military,” Mark said. “We are glad in any way to help be a part of the event.”
For more information, visit www.raceforasoldier.org.Lifestyles Coordinator Kim Eibel can reached at 253-358-4152 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_kim.