Personal Trainer Goes on Runs With American Flag to Raise Awareness of Veteran Suicide

BY MICHAEL WING

A fitness trainer from Illinois started carrying an American flag during his daily runs through Lake County Forest Preserves.

Although Mark Palmieri, 36, has never served in the military, he knows many who have, including his best friend, whom he saw struggle after he returned state-side from deployment. That spurred Palmieri to play a greater role in helping servicemen and women when they return home.

And the American flag became part of that effort.

“When people see me running with the flag, it’s generally viewed as a beacon of hope,” he told the Daily Herald, adding that “hope” is what we need most right now.

The purpose, he adds, is to raise awareness of the plight of veterans to the people he comes across, and to honor those who laid down their lives.

“I tell people that I work with veterans when they come home,” said Palmieri. “The suicide awareness component, as it relates to the military, is a big part of why I do this.”

Palmieri’s day job involves training men and women who aspire to join the military; meanwhile, supporting those who return home is where his heart is. He helped found the nonprofit Three Rangers Foundation, which supports veterans and their families for life.

The organization is funded by private donors as well as the veteran-owned Three Rangers brand of spirits.

It might seem political to run to carry an American flag during his runs through forest preserve trails—these days more than ever before—but Palmieri insists that politics aren’t part of the equation. After the pandemic was unleashed on the world, the flag is a welcome sight.

“There has been so much fear and loneliness since the virus hit. When people see me on the trails with the flag, it’s a game changer,” he said.

When he first started running eight years ago, Palmieri didn’t even like running, he told the news outlet. He was into “rucking” (hiking with military backpacks filled with weights)—which he incorporates into his personal training—and he would participate in rucking events often carrying an American flag.

And the tradition continued on from there.

Now, his runs along the forest preserve trails are typically 3 to 5 miles long.

The flag also introduced a spiritual aspect into the routine, he says, and he hopes it will inspire others in some way. “It has become something bigger than me,” he shared. “I am trying to motivate my community.” People sometimes cheer or thank him for his service when they see him carrying the red, white, and blue.

Jordan Wagner, an executive assistant at Lake County Forest Preserves, was so impressed when she saw Palmieri and his flag that it brought tears to her eyes. “Whenever I see the American flag, I always feel pride, unity, sacrifice and purpose,” she said.

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