Make it count is a very personal phrase for members of the Duncan family.
Dale Duncan, father, used the phrase every day.
“Every morning as I would get up to go to work, as I was walking out the door, I would say, ‘family, make it count today,’” he said.
As the boys grew older, they repeated the phrase back to their father.
“They’d say, OK. OK, dad. Make it count,” Dale recalls. “That carried through as they grew older.”
Their oldest son, Spencer, said it, too. He joined the U.S. Army Reserves shortly after graduating from Olathe South High School.
“He said, ‘Dad, I’m trying to make it count,” Dale recalls.
Dale and his wife Megan hope the phrase will always be synonymous with the memory of Spencer, who made it count by giving the ultimate sacrifice.
Spencer, a 21-year-old, U.S. Army Specialist, died when his helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011. It was the deadliest day for American forces in the war in Afghanistan.
That day, Spencer was serving as a door gunner aboard a Boeing CH-47 Chinook. The purpose was to transport a quick reaction team of special forces personnel to reinforce Army Rangers in the Wardak province.
The Chinook was shot down, killing everyone on board. Personnel on the helicopter included members of three branches of service including U.S. Navy Seals, U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen, and soldiers.
Today, Megan and Dale can speak candidly about their son and his sacrifice. They tear up, but maintain their composure, and many of their tears are followed by laughter and happy memories.
They anticipate a lot of laughter through tears when they host the third annual Spencer C. Duncan Make It Count 5K on Aug. 2.
“We’ll have a lot of people, a lot of flags and a few tears that day,” Megan said.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Michael Walsh can list their names. They are the only soldiers the commanding officer has ever lost.
In addition to Spencer, the helicopter crew lost included Chinook pilots and David Carter, a National Guardsman; and pilot and Reservist Bryan Nichols, and Reservists Alex Bennett and another door gunner, Patrick Hamburger on Aug. 6, 2011.
Walsh said the annual 5K race is a way to keep their memories alive.
“No soldier is left behind and we’re not leaving any soldiers behind in our memories either,” Walsh said.
For Megan and Dale, the annual race helps them grieve the devastating loss.
“People grieve in so many different ways,” Megan said. “For us, this is the way we’re grieving.”
Spencer would have wanted to honor the service of the veterans who made it home, Dale said.
Last year, the Make It Count Today Foundation awarded more than $56,000 to veteran causes. With the funds, the organization provided 60 book scholarships to service members returning home. They also gave money to an organization that houses homeless veterans, and provided funding to budding veteran entrepreneurs through an Oklahoma State University program.
“I really feel like when you’re giving back to veterans, you’re giving back to the nation as well,” Megan said. “…Thank you for not letting the memory of our son die.”
The annual 5K run is the not-for-profit foundation’s primary fundraising event. Held on the first Saturday of August – near the anniversary of Spencer’s death – the event is more than a run.
This year’s festivities will feature food and drinks, prizes and the newest Chinook helicopters – “Fresh off the assembly line,” Walsh said – will be open for the public to see.
Also available on-site the day of the race will be a Remembering the Fallen exhibit, showcasing Kansas veterans who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The exhibit includes information about Shane Austin, a Gardner Edgerton High School graduate, killed in service to the country.
The run/walk is free for veterans, but they are asked to register. The general public and veterans can register at MakeItCountToday.org. Registration will also be available the day of the event.
The run begins at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2 at New Century AirCenter. The run begins and ends in front of the U.S. Army Reserve hangar.