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UW-Eau Claire education major Ricky Schiff will run the Madison Half Marathon to raise funds for the Badger Honor Flight, a foundation that escorts ailing Wisconsin veterans to the military memorials, museums and cemeteries in Washington.

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.

But UW-Eau Claire 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 Veterans 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 history education major from South Range, will be running the Madison Half Marathon on Sunday, 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 of 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 deeply 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 18-26 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.”

Time, monetary support

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.

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 her mentoring role as a key factor in both 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.”