Brian Klippenstein is a veteran marathon runner. He has competed some 40 such races since his debut almost 20 years ago, but the Marine Corps Marathon he will run on Sunday will be the first he tackles for “unselfish reasons.”
Klippenstein, chief of staff to Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), will run the marathon in memory of Army Sgt. Jay Gauthreaux, who died in Iraq last December. He will enter the race as part of a 256-member team that is running to raise money for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
TAPS aids families that lose loved ones serving in the armed forces. It offers a national peer support network and puts survivors in touch with one another so they may grieve and recover together.
Bond, whose son served two tours in Iraq, and his staff have been longtime supporters of TAPS, with the Senator serving as honorary chairman in 2001. “We think it’s a vitally important effort,” he said.
“All of the work that we do for the families, it’s all made possible by the efforts of folks like Brian and the Marine Corps Marathon. This is our one big fundraiser of the year,” said TAPS Chairman Bonnie Carroll, who founded the organization in 1994 and is hoping to raise $250,000 this year.
Klippenstein initially was given a fundraising goal of $8,000, but he quickly exceeded that number after calling all of his friends, even those who are against the war, and asking them for donations.
“The really fun part is that people jump at the opportunity [to donate],” he says. “It’s a terrific sign of the real support that’s out there for the families of those who are serving.”
Though Klippenstein never met Gauthreaux, he has had the opportunity to speak with his mother, Faye Crawford, whom he describes as a rock. “The only bravery that exceeds those who are over there is the bravery of the families who are lost without them,” he said.
Crawford, a Missouri resident, got involved with TAPS shortly after her son was killed in Iraq on Dec. 4. Her husband discovered the nonprofit organization after seeing his wife struggle with grief late at night, when no one was available to talk her through her heartache.
“It was very, very helpful to me just to have somebody who has been through it,” Crawford said, adding that she found the 24-hour hotline to be especially helpful. “When this happens and when you’re feeling your lowest … you can’t say, ‘OK, let me break down at 3 in the afternoon when I know an organization is open. It’s around the clock.”
Crawford says she is honored that Klippenstein is running the race in her son’s memory. Gauthreaux, who died of injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle, was survived by his 4-year-old son, Devon, who Crawford and her husband are now raising.
“Everybody loved Jay,” she says, describing Gauthreaux as a wonderful father. “I’m proud that he served our country, but I’m prouder that he actually was an incredible father.”