An Illinois State alumnus who helps veterans recover physically after their deployments will lace up his running shoes next month to support a nonprofit that’s dedicated to combating other challenges faced by returning soldiers—unemployment, homelessness, and suicide.
Army Airborne Ranger Capt. Patrick Kelley ’05 will lead one of the dozens of Run Ranger Run teams across the U.S., each one looking to walk, run, or ride 565 miles during the 28 days of February. The Kelley’s Heroes team is looking to raise $10,000 through pledges and other means for GallantFew, a nonprofit that uses unique one-on-one mentoring to stave off Ranger unemployment, homelessness, and suicide.
Kelley sees the challenges that returning soldiers face every day as company commander for Charlie Company at Fort Knox, Kentucky, in the Warrior Transition Battalion. The WTB aids injured and ill soldiers by getting them to appointments, helping navigate military benefits, and working with their families. Kelley’s wife, Andrea (Marshall) ’07, serves as the unit’s Family Readiness Group leader.
Kelley says they see soldiers at their highest highs and lowest lows through their transition in the WTB. The most rewarding part, he said, is when the soldiers reach the end of the process, are told about the multitude of benefits available to them, and taken in front of the unit’s formation for a final send-off.
“It’s that look on their face, that realization that somebody’s looking out for them,” Kelley told STATEside.
Kelley’s military ties run deep, as do his connections with Illinois State. He is a third-generation Army Ranger, following his grandfather, William, and father, Ron, who is the director of energy management at Illinois State and a former chair of the University’s Department of Military Science.
Kelley, 31, joined the Illinois National Guard in 1998 while still at University High School. He enrolled at Illinois State in 2000 and studied in the School of Information Technology, with much of his time taken up by ROTC training and his Guard duties. He was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer when he graduated in 2005.
Three years later he was accepted into the Rangers special operations community. Before starting his WTB assignment last year, Kelley did a combined three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaling two years.
Kelley came across Run Ranger Run last year, when Army Cpl. Cory Smith ran 565 miles from Columbus, Georgia, to Indianapolis, Indiana, in hopes of highlighting the difficult journey faced by returning veterans. Smith’s trek took him past Fort Knox, where he stopped and spoke to Kelley’s soldiers about the challenges they’d face and the GallantFew mission.
“He took the time and made the effort on his own time. So we’re going to pay him back,” Kelley said.
This year, teams across the U.S. have taken up Smith’s cause. Kelley’s team includes his wife, Andrea; his brother, Michael Kelley ’08, a former Redbird baseball player; his father, Ron; his mother, Yvonne Kelley; and some other family friends. Patrick and Andrea plan to run three to five miles every day to rack up the mileage, and the entire team will track its progress on the Kelley’s Heroes team webpage.
Redbirds can support Kelley’s Heroes by making a donation on the team’s page. Kelley said those not in a position to donate can help simply by spreading the word about his efforts on social media. Kelley’s business supporters include Lock-N-Load Java and Read’s Sporting Goods.
Ryan Denham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.