Sunday will be a day for remembering, and a good way to start your morning is with a walk in Audubon Park. Freedom Walk 2011 offers a time to reflect on the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to honor service members, veterans and first responders. Louisiana Freedom Walk 2011 will take place at Audubon Park.
“This is the first one Operation Homefront has done, and we look for it to be an annual event from here on out,” Tawney Tallo said. Tallo is director of Operation Homefront Louisiana, a nonprofit group that provides emergency assistance to military families and wounded warriors in Louisiana. Registration fees for the walk benefit Operation Homefront. “All the money will go into our emergency assistance fund,” Tallo said. “Some of it will go for Thanksgiving food baskets and Christmas food baskets. You might not think about military families needing assistance, but for young enlisted men and women, often married and with babies or young children, life can be on a strict budget.
“With the National Guard and reservists, when they go on deployment, they often take a pay cut, and when they come home, they may not have a job waiting for them,” Tallo said. “You’re deployed and then you’re home for a year, and you’re starting over. The first Freedom Walk, held in 2005 in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by America Supports You, a nationwide program started by the Department of Defense after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the Twin Towers and Flight 93 over Pennsylvania. The walk was to honor the victims and show that Americans support the men and women of the Armed Forces.
For Tallo, supporting military men and women is a way of life.
The first time she contacted me was in January 2010, when she was state coordinator for Soldiers’ Angels, the volunteer nonprofit group that holds parties for units about to be deployed to the Middle East. She was organizing Operation Mardi Gras Overseas, the annual Soldiers’ Angels project to send care packages stuffed with costumes, beads, throws and other Mardi Gras paraphernalia to the 5,000 Louisiana troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and she asked me to help. She said she’d gotten involved with Soldiers’ Angels when her husband, Vincent Tallo, was at Camp Liberty in Iraq with the Louisiana National Guard for a year, and she was home in Alexandria with her four children. This year, when I emailed her to see if she planning the Mardi Gras effort again, I didn’t hear back from her. Eventually, I received an email from another Soldiers’ Angel, Cherry Blackwell of Destrehan, who said she had taken over and explained why.
“Tawney is in Basic Training for the Army,” she wrote. When I talked to Tallo about the Freedom Walk, she told me all about her G.I. Jane adventures at Fort Jackson, S. C. The first thing I had to ask was, “Why does a wife and mother of four suddenly decide to join the Army?” She explained that there was nothing sudden about it.
“My dad was in the Air Force, so we were raised to be patriots, and for a long time I didn’t feel like I was doing enough to assure my own children’s freedom,” she said. “It weighed heavy on my heart.” She had spoken to a recruiter a few times before, but she had young children to raise, and it never seemed like the right time. “Then I started praying that God would help me find my way,” she said. Last year, she felt called to join the Army National Guard, but she knew she would have to get in shape first. “I trained for six months,” she said. “I ran and I did push-ups and sit-ups, yoga, pilates and strength-training.” Even with all the preparation, the physical demands of basic training were tough. “The first few weeks your body is in shock, but I wouldn’t let anybody know I was hurting,” she said.
Her son Dustin Richardson, 17, went to basic training at Fort Leonardwood in Missouri this summer, before his senior year of high school, so they were able to compare notes. “Either his was a whole lot easier or he’s in a lot better shape than I am,” Tallo said. She suspects that he’s in better shape. Dustin ended up in the same barracks Tallo’s husband had been in for basic training 28 years earlier. “Vince was having some pretty severe flashbacks when we were there,” Tallo joked.
The young men and women at basic training called Tallo “Mama T” or “Mama Red” because of her age and red hair. At 37, she was twice the age of some of them. “Some of those kids had sad stories to tell me, and a lot of them just needed a hug,” she said. “Sometimes I felt like I had 50 of my own teenagers.” Now that basic training is behind her, she is going to Officer Candidate School one weekend a month for 16 months, so she’s able to do her volunteer duties for Soldiers’ Angels and Operation Homefront Louisiana.
Freedom Walk 2011 will be different from many fund-raising walks. It will be simple, without a lot of fanfare. Tallo has been trying for months to get an honor guard for the beginning of the walk, but hasn’t been successful because of all the other events going on. “I’m still trying, if you know of anyone,” she said.
The main event will just be families walking quietly in remembrance along a jogging path in the park. “That’s the way it should be,” Tallo said. “I want it be more solemn than a celebration.”
Freedom Walk 2011
What: A walk to remember the lives lost in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001; honor service members, veterans and first responders; and renew our commitment to freedom and the values of our country. It benefits Operation Homefront Louisiana, a nonprofit group that provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and to wounded warriers living in Louisiana.
Where: Beginning at the Newman Bandstand on the Magazine Street side of Audubon Park near the Audubon Clubhouse and following the 1.9 jogging trail. Participants can do less than one lap or several laps.
When: Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. The opening ceremony begins at 8:30 a.m. and the walk begins at 9 a.m.
Cost: Under 5, free. Walkers ages 5 to 11, veterans, service members and first responders, $10. Those 12 and older, $15. If you can’t attend, but would like to be part of the walk, register to be a “ghost walker” for $20. To register and learn more, go to www.louisianafreedomwalk.org.
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