By Todd Vinyard, Special to CatamountSports.com
Service to others is more than something Western Carolina football coach Mark Speir talks about with his team. Speir demonstrates it with his involvement in a variety of efforts.
Speir recently spent 17 days in some of the wildest parts of Alaska with his son Zeb, a quarterback on the Appalachian State football team, working with a group called Operation Heal Our Patriots. The ministry project of Samaritan's Purse focuses on bringing spiritual and marriage enrichment to wounded and injured U.S. military service members and their spouses.
"Ever since I found out about this ministry and what it does for veterans and their spouses who have given so much to us, it has been on my heart to help," Speir said. "And then to get to go with my son Zeb was very special. He has three semesters left at App State, and then he is going to have his own life. It was eye opening for us to see these veterans and the work this program does. Like most volunteer situations, we got more out of it than the people we served. It was an awesome week."
He added, “When you meet them, you are blown away with what they have done for all of us in our country. I am a patriotic guy with several family members who have and are now serving in the military, so this was something I wanted to support."
Speir regularly supports Operation Heal Our Patriots with a motorcycle ride event that raised more than $16,000 for the group this year. The money helped send three couples to Alaska.
This summer’s trip included everything from sanding to laying down carpet by the two Speirs, who after the work was done took advantage of the extra summer daylight in Alaska. The duo did some king salmon fishing and hiked the close to 4,000-foot elevation of Tanalian Mountain in Port Alsworth, Alaska, which is 175 miles west-southwest of Anchorage. Coach Speir enjoyed some rare time away from his cell phone with the lack of service and some quality father and son time.
"Seeing these veterans and thinking about what their service means for our country was really powerful," Zeb Speir said. "Dad talks about service being important and enjoying it, and I did. Also to have 17 days where we were together every day was very special. It was a great time with my dad."