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Thursday, May 17, 2012 11:02 am

Run to remember a special veteran

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Officer Brian McMillen
When Brian McMillen walked into her office at Lincoln Land Community College in 2002, Jenny Gietl knew there was something special about him.

McMillen had just returned from his second year of active duty in the U.S. Air Force, where he was stationed in Saudi Arabia and Romania, and was looking for a job in the LLCC Veterans Office, which would allow him to attend classes at LLCC and work at the same time.

Gietl, a veterans affairs adviser at LLCC, said after initially speaking with McMillen she knew he would be perfect to be her new student worker.

“He immediately impressed me with how open he was about everything, how focused he was about his life and how knowledgeable he was,” Gietl said. “When I first met him I knew that he had a special quality. Shortly after hiring him I told him I knew he was going to be somebody someday, he just had that type of personality and a very calming smile.”

McMillen, who came from a family of 10 siblings in Pana, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Illinois Springfield and was pursuing a master’s degree at UIS when he lost his life in the line of duty with the Illinois State Police in October 2007.

In honor of McMillen, his friends and colleagues created the LLCC Brian McMillen Memorial 5K Run/Walk, which takes place on Saturday, May 26, at the LLCC campus. The run/walk was established in 2008 by the LLCC Veterans Club and raises funds in support of the LLCC Brian McMillen Veterans Scholarship, which provides financial support to veterans attending LLCC. This year’s memorial run will also feature a 10K run.

Eric Link, one of McMillen’s best friends who also served with him in the Air Force, said his relationship with McMillen began with the two competing in nearly everything, but it was the type of competition that forced both men to bring out the best in each other.

“If I scored higher on a test, he would try to score higher than me on the next one,” Link said. “It was a good relationship, especially in the military and in life in general, because we consistently pushed each other to be better at whatever we were doing.”

Link said he was immediately on board when Gietl presented the idea of participating in the run/walk because, in the back of his mind, he immediately heard McMillen’s voice saying, “Come on buddy, lets see what you got.”

“I heard his voice challenging me so I guess I’m in it for life now,” Link said about helping organize the memorial run. “I know Brian would have done the same thing for not only me, but also any of his friends.”

Jay Hoffman, McMillen’s former roommate and one of the primary organizers of the memorial run, said it took a “brainstorming session” for the Veterans Club to decide on an appropriate way to pay tribute to McMillen.

“Everyone had a lot of ideas that ranged from a golf outing to a memorial run, so obviously only one of them stuck,” Hoffman said.

Link said after the first Brian McMillen Memorial Run/Walk, where it rained all morning leading up to the event, he had a feeling that the run would continue to gain support.

“The first year, it was a torrential downpour throughout the morning and with about 10 minutes before we were scheduled to start the rain quit,” Link said. “It wasn’t till maybe a few minutes after the last person had finished the race that it started pouring again. I thought, ‘Whatever you’re doing up there buddy, thanks.’”

The fifth annual Brian McMillen Memorial Run takes place Saturday, May 26, at 8 a.m. on the LLCC campus. Interested participants may register online at www.llccveteransclub.org through May 24. Registrations will also be accepted the day of the event. Cost for the 5K run/walk is $20, or $25 the day of the race. The 10K run costs $30, or $35 the day of the event. For more information email llccveteransclub@yahoo.com.

Contact Neil Schneider at nschneider@illinoisitmes.
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