For most full-time college students, taking on the added responsibility of serving in the U.S. Air National Guard would feel like "enough" in terms of serving one's country — and it most certainly is.
But sophomore Ricky Schiff, a previously enlisted U.S. Air Force serviceman turned Air National Guard, still wants to do more, especially to serve the older veterans who have gone before him.
Seeing the names of the fallen at the Vietnam Memorial in 2018 was deeply personal for Schiff, reflecting on the impact of all the lives and futures lost. The experience was part of his inspiration to raise funds for Badger Honor Flight, in their honor.
After visiting Washington, D.C., and having the opportunity to see the military museums, memorials and Arlington National Cemetery, Schiff decided to turn an upcoming half-marathon run into a way to give back to Wisconsin veterans.
Schiff, a 2017 graduate of Northwestern High School and a history education major at UWEC, will be running the Madison Half Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 10, one day before Veterans Day.
As a way to honor fellow veterans, Schiff will dedicate his run and fundraising proceeds to the Badger Honor Flight, a foundation that provides terminally ill veterans from any U.S. war or military conflict the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., and witness the beautiful war memorials erected to honor their service and sacrifice.
"I thought it would be timely and an amazing idea to dedicate my half-marathon run to the Badger Honor Flight," said Schiff, who has run several half-marathons in recent years. "Running for this cause means so much to me, not just because I am a service member, but because I know my grandfather and father would have loved the opportunity to see these memorials before they passed away."
Schiff is a third-generation serviceman whose father and grandfather both succumbed to lung cancer, his father losing that battle in 2013.
"My grandfather, Robert Schiff, passed away from lung cancer in 1998 and served in the U.S Army during World War II. My father, Richard Schiff, served as a U.S. Marine during the Vietnam War," he said. "The United States military is very dear to my heart."
During his visit to the memorials in D.C., Schiff could not help but feel a deep personal connection to the men whose names he saw on those walls, to the lives changed and lost forever by their deaths.
"Many names on the wall were people 18 to 26 years old — they had their whole lives ahead of them, but were drafted," he reflected. "My dad was drafted, No. 23, and it changed everything. It was just surreal to think that his name could be on that wall, that I wouldn't be here if it was."
Blugold vets make an impact
As the campus prepares to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Miranda Cross-Schindler, Military and Veterans Services manager, points out that Ricky's current service and effort to support and honor older American veterans is a quality she sees in most Blugold active, reserve, guard and retired military members.
"Transitioning from military service to civilian life is different for everyone; however, one commonality is the passion and drive for ways to continue serving their communities," Cross-Schindler said. "Our student veterans understand the importance of honoring those who have served and really get a lot of satisfaction knowing they are impacting others with their efforts. Ricky clearly values those who have served our country and has found a great way to 'pay it forward' with his run for the Badger Honor Flight."
Finding ways to give
When he found out about Badger Honor Flights, Schiff quickly learned the costs involved in transporting these American veterans to Washington, D.C., and looked for a way to raise money.
"My primary goal is to raise as much money as possible to get some vets on a flight," Schiff said. "It's free to the veterans themselves. They pay nothing, but it costs the foundation about $300 per person. I've created a GoFundMe page for my run, all of which will go to the foundation."
The Badger Honor Flight Foundation takes Wisconsin veterans to D.C. roughly once a month, and is regularly seeking volunteers to assist here in Wisconsin or to assist with the needs of a group on a flight. Schiff hopes to someday ride on one of those Honor Flights, when his busy student and guard schedule allows. He can be called to a training or active assignment at any time, a part of his student career that poses challenges, but nothing he isn't able to handle.
"This is my third year, but because I'm gone so much; I'm still a sophomore," he said. "I spent last fall in Texas at Goodfellow Air Force Base, and then was back in school from January-April. I actually completed all my spring finals from the Air Force base in Richmond, Virginia. My professors have all been really helpful in working around my guard obligations."
In addition to his coursework and military service, Schiff is a member of the Blugold Beginnings Learning Community at UW-Eau Claire, a recruitment and retention effort under the executive direction of Jodi Thesing-Ritter. Schiff cites Thesing-Ritter's mentoring role as a key factor in the idea and plan to run for this nonprofit to benefit veterans.
"Ricky has worked tirelessly to maintain academic success as a member of the Blugold Beginnings Learning Community while also following through on his military commitments to serving our country," she said. "I have been so impressed with his desire to give back to veterans who have gone before him and was eager to support this project by assisting with promotion and making a donation."
For more information about the Badger Honor Flight Foundation, visit badgerhonorflight.org.
To learn more about Blugold Beginnings, visit uwec.edu/equity-diversity-inclusion/edi-services-programs/blugold-beginnings.
Denise Olson is the Integrated Marketing and Communications specialist at UW-Eau Claire.