Delaware marathon one step closer for runner's journey

  • Published
  • By Christin Michaud
  • AFMAO Public Affairs
In October, an avid marathon runner with a goal of running a marathon in every state will return to Dover, Del., - this time for what she hopes to be a huge foot stomp.
"When I realized that Dover had a marathon, it all clicked," said Linda Ambard, the youth program chief at the 66th Force Support Squadron, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.

That's when Operation Foot Stomp was born. Operation Foot Stomp is about the all encompassing military family ranging from the immediate family members to the civilians behind the scenes who support them. It's the husbands and wives at home waiting and the military children who just by virtue of being born into a military family have to embrace a nomadic childhood, their unspoken fears of a parent deploying, perhaps never to return, or return a different person than when they left.

Ambard said she believes in the ties of the military family, but she never knew exactly what those ties were until her husband Maj. Phillip Ambard came back to American soil in the middle of a cold dark night April 30, 2011.

The major was killed April 27 in a shooting incident at Kabul International Airport killing eight Airmen and one contractor. The foreign language officer was serving a year-long deployment on a NATO team training their Afghan Air Force. He was assigned to the 460th Space Communications Squadron, Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.

"He was a naturalized American citizen who gave all to his country," she said of her husband. "Even as I stood there broken beyond belief, I realized how many people were there supporting me."

His replacement at the Academy, a previous assignment for the major where he worked for several years as an assistant professor, Department of Foreign Languages executive officer and later served in that same role for the Dean of the Faculty, was there to help her family as well as his roommate from Afghanistan and someone he worked with at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

Staff from the USO met them at every gate on their journey to Dover and so many others who carried her family through their darkest moment, she said.

"I am still carried in the arms of my military family. People have reached out to me from all over the world," said Ambard. "Not all of them know me and many of these reaching arms are faces and voices from the past."

Ambard describes herself as the military wife that hid behind her husband's shadow. She raised five children, four who went on to follow their father's footsteps and serve their country.

She's been a runner for more than 35 years, but in 2003, after her children were grown, her husband urged her to run across the U.S. by running a marathon in every state.

"I have five marathons left," said Ambard.  "My last one should have been at Dover, but my dad's unexpected illness and death in March shifted that. I will finish my 50 states this spring, but Dover is the third marathon in four weeks that I will be running."

It was a run in Delaware when she was here for her husband's dignified transfer that reminds her of the support she received and the need for the military community to stand as one.

"I was so lost and so broken," said Ambard.

Robin Raine, chief of Air Force Families of the Fallen Support suggested Ambard go for a run the day her husband's remains were coming home.

"I could barely stand up, but she picked me up and took me to a running trail ... she knew that by doing something that I have always used to process how I was feeling and to feel happy, that I would have some sort of normalcy in the storm ... it made all of the difference to this girl."

Reaching out was natural to Raine as part of her duties here.

"I sensed that running might serve to ground her and help her cope during such an overwhelming time, so I offered to pick her up at the hotel in town and bring her on base where she could be safe to run her heart out," said Raine. "It was nothing on my part - just a small gesture that shows when people tune into others during their time of need, they can make a difference."

Ambard will run again in Dover during the Monster Mash Marathon Oct. 20, at Dover International Speedway in an effort she hopes will make a difference as well. It's the marathon with the most personal meaning for her and she's challenging others to join her.

"I want to get Patriot riders, the dignified transfer team and so many more people to run," said Ambard. "I want to put a foot stamp on what the military family is about - standing together as one in times of loss. This challenge is about awareness of just who we are and the ties that bind all of us.

"We need to stand as one," Ambard said. "It takes a village for all of us. My village has carried me through my darkest hours. Nobody understands except the people walking this broken road. You are my family. I am yours."

This is why the Dover Marathon means everything to her, she said.

"I want to make that foot stomp and I want people to take notice of just who we are - we are one."