ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 29, 2012) -- Donna Engeman,
Installation Management Command program manager of Survivor Outreach
Services, rode into Washington, D.C., this weekend with about 1,200
other motorcycle riders who came from as far away as California to
ride with the Rolling Thunder, May 27.
May 28, 2012 - Donna Engeman, Survivor Outreach Services manager at
Installation Management Command, rode her Harley Davidson from San
Antonio to Washington, D.C., to ride in Rolling Thunder this past
Memorial Day. Her main reason was to visit her husband, John, at
Arlington Cemetery, Va. Photo by Rob McIlvaine
She and another IMCOM employee, Mark Armantrout of G4,
Logistics, however, only came half way across the country,
from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
visiting her husband's grave at Arlington National Cemetery
this past Saturday, Engeman began to laugh and said "Last
night, when we pulled in to the hotel, I felt absolute
relief to be off the bike."
This was her third big
challenge, but Engeman has faced many challenges over the
years. The following is just three of them.
John Engeman set a goal for his wife and
on May 13, 2006, he watched, via the Internet from Iraq, as
she received her bachelor's degree in political science and
"He was so excited for me,"
Engeman said in an article published on the Arlington
National Cemetery website.
"For him to be able to
see me graduate was really special. He told me afterward
that I looked great and that he'd call me the next day on
Mother's Day," she said.
The call never came.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Engeman, 45, along with
Master Sgt. Robert H. West, 37, of Elyria, Ohio, died in
Baghdad, Iraq, on May 14, 2006, when an improvised explosive
device detonated near their Humvee during combat operations.
Both Soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 312th
Regiment, 30th Enhanced Separate Brigade, Clinton, N.C.
Her next challenge was when,
after a 2007 Gold Star Ceremony at the Pentagon, she was
standing outside in the hallway thinking, 'if I ever get a
chance to tell the Army what I think.'
found myself standing alongside (then) Army Chief of Staff
Gen. George W. Casey Jr. I told him in so many words that
this whole casualty assistance process stinks." She turned
to walk away, thinking he'd fix it.
Casey lost his
father, Maj. Gen. George W. Casey, in Vietnam in July 1970
and he developed the idea for a better support system for
survivors of fallen service members in late 2006. But he
knew he couldn't do it alone.
"Don't walk away,"
Casey called out to her. "You're going to help me fix it."
Two years later, Casey and Engeman and about 55 other
survivors met at the Survivor Outreach Services Summit to
take stock of how far they'd come and how far they had to
This challenge was
personal and the payoff taught her many things about
herself. But she also viewed this week's ride as an
opportunity to do some education and outreach for work.
"I wanted to show JD (her husband) that I'm okay and
that I'm moving forward."
GOLD STAR, PART OF THIRD
"This challenge is also to bring some
recognition to the Gold Star because so many people don't
know what they are. The star identifies them as family
members of those giving the ultimate sacrifice in combat and
in active service," she said.
There's Gold Star
Wives, Gold Star Mothers, both Congressionally chartered
organizations, and Gold Star Dads.
During the 2011
Army Family Action Plan conference, the Gold Stars in
attendance asked IMCOM leadership to have some sort of Gold
Star recognition campaign, some sort of education and
The Gold Stars, she said, are very
small symbols, and sometimes outside the survivor community,
there's not a great deal that knows what they are. But these
symbols are so huge to the survivor community.
we've been working that, and I thought this was something I
could do because in the motorcycle community there's a lot
of survivors. It's not just about Iraq and Afghanistan,
although that's in the forefront of our mind right now, but
there are survivors from so many conflicts. And they need to
be recognized," Engeman said.
She thought her ride
could be used to help bring recognition to that.
also really want to train the civilian workforce. It's my
hope, down the road, we can get some training into TRADOC
(U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command) about the Gold
Star pins, and I think it fits in with casualty training,"
THE TRIP FROM SAN ANTONIO TO WASHINGTON,
They left Saturday night for Grand Prairie,
Texas, where they connected with the Run for the Wall, a
group from California, riding on her brand new Harley
Davidson 1200 CVO.
"After a few hours sleep, we were
on our way and rode into Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee
and then Virginia."
She said she learned a great deal
about herself: First, that she could get to Washington,
D.C., on her motorcycle.
I've ridden with groups of
people -- maybe 15 or 20 and at the most 100. But riding in
a big group in staggered formation, oh my word, in one
second you're going 80 mph, and the next second you're going
30 mph. But all within in the speed limit, safety first, you
know, but we had police escort.
Engeman said she's
always trying to be a better rider.
"It was really a
sense of accomplishment, though, because we rode through
rain, through hail, and usually when I'm riding through
stuff like that, like if I'm by myself, I pull over, and
they didn't pull over.
"I thought, this is
dangerous; you have to know what you're doing, and I looked
down and said to myself, yeah, but I know what I'm doing,
and I'm staying. Don't get cocky though," she laughed.
"What I didn't factor in when I was planning this was
how my emotions might affect me on a certain day while
riding and that really has a lot to do when you're riding,"
She did wear a helmet.
think IMCOM would have supported it if I didn't, and if
you're going to ride with the Run for the Wall, you have to
agree to wear a helmet. And in all honesty, I think that's
only good sense in that kind of a group."
TRIP BECAME REALITY
"Right around a year ago, a good
friend of mine, Doctor Jill Lamorie, who now works for the
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in
Bethesda, Md., said they were gearing up to do a study
called the The National Military Family Bereavement
She and I met through TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for
Survivors), trying to do an assistant program for survivors.
The five-year study -- a Congressionally Directed
Medical Research Program -- collaborates with the Army
Survivor Outreach Services, TAPS, Gold Star Wives of
America, Inc., American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., National
Military Families Association, Military Child Education
Coalition, and Snowball Express.
"It's the first
study of its kind on military families and grief, and Jill
is heading up the field research. And in her work she comes
into contact with a lot of non-government organizations that
work with survivors.
Two organizations help with her
TRAVIS MANION FOUNDATION
those organizations is the Travis Manion Foundation. She
works very closely with them and she called me one day and
said, 'Hey, I've got a challenge for you,' and I was right
in the middle of trying to meet deadlines at IMCOM so I
already had enough challenges, and she said, 'oh no, you'll
like this one,' and I said 'what?'
Foundation, located in Doylestown, Pa., has a program called
"Honor the Fallen by Challenging the Living."
basically, you come up with some sort of challenge that
challenges you, helps you move forward, yet it honors your
loved one at the same time."
Engeman said this
program spoke to her, as a survivor, about resiliency, how
the Army needs to make their families, Soldiers, and
civilian workforce resilient, but the Army doesn't talk too
much about survivor resiliency.
"And I think it's
really neat that I was able to choose my own path, which is
all about resiliency -- learning to choose your own path
"For me, I have days when I can't even brush
my teeth or tie my shoes without somebody telling me to
close the door when I walk out of the house."
program, she said, had a group of Marines who were walking
the Appalachian Trail, and a young man was running across
the United States.
"But they offered $5,000 grants
for these challenges and Jill said, 'you need to do it,' and
I said, yeah, okay, how about if I ride my bike from San
Antonio and back to see JD for Memorial Day.'"
she didn't realize, though, was Jill pitched Engeman's
challenge to the Manion Foundation and they jumped on it,
but first she had to write up her quest and submit it.
"I had to really think about it. It'd really be a
challenge but you know what, why would it be a challenge,
what would be so important about it?
But you have to
also have a plan, she said.
"You can't just say I'm
going to hop on my bike and ride, you got to figure out how
many days you're going to be, on the road, all the logistics
involved -- what's it going to cost, how much fuel do you
think you're going to need, where are you going to stay,
what's your route going to be, and what's your risk
assessment -- what kind of safety things are you going to
take into consideration.
RUN FOR THE WALL
was busy trying to work this all out when another colleague,
Charles O'Leary, suggested I look into a group called Run
for the Wall. Every year this groups starts out in
California a week or so before Memorial Day and they ride
across the United States to the (Vietnam Veterans Memorial)
wall for Rolling Thunder," Engeman said.
Run for the
Wall promotes healing among all veterans, their families and
friends, calls for an accounting of all Prisoners of War and
those Missing in Action, honors the memory of those Killed
in Actions from all wars, and supports military personnel
all over the world.
"And they've done this run so
many times, that the routes are set, the townspeople know
when they're coming through, and they have activities and
things set up. The group also had the logistics, a
maintenance vehicle, and medical and chaplain support."
With the logistics package already built in, all she had
to do was register and join up with them.
all I had to figure out was the cost of fuel, lodging, and
meals. For two people, I estimated about $1,500 round trip
and I tried to estimate high, and for the lodging, I just
called ahead and got all the rates."
On the way up
from Fort Sam Houston, she said, a lot of the towns were
generous. Groups, such as the VFW, the auxiliaries, the
Moose Lodge, and the American Legion, fed the bikers when
"One thing that happened was so
amazing. I think we were coming through Mississippi, and we
were riding along -- the town knows we're coming through,
it's been on the news and advertised and stuff -- so on the
overpasses, people would get out and there'd be flags
hanging and they'd be waving -- it was just an awesome
"But going down one stretch of freeway I
looked over to the left and there was a young Soldier and he
was standing at attention, saluting, and I think it was at
that moment I thought, you know, we like to talk about
everything that's wrong with America. That young man, that
Soldier, that's what's right."
Engeman is passionate
about her work with SOS, Gold Stars, and the survivors.
She said there were five Gold
Star members who rode with her.
"We got to talking
about the Gold Stars and I mentioned to one of them that I
had my Gold Star banner and if there was ever an
opportunity, I'd like to tell people about the Gold Star
banner, the pins, and what I do in my work."
morning, she said they called her up on stage in
Chattanooga, Tenn., gave her a microphone and said, 'here,
"To be able to address the group was quite an
honor and a great opportunity to say something about
Survivor Outreach and what I do, but also to share my story
with them. I often feel like it's not always me doing that
talking, I mean it's my story, but it was our story, our
After her talk, others came up to
her and began telling their story, too.
"We all have
a special story, and we're the ones left here to make sure
those stories go on and to represent that. To be chosen by
somebody to share their story with me is very humbling and
I'm very grateful for that opportunity," Engeman said.
To get more information on the Army's SOS program, visit
information on the Travis Manion Foundation, visit
For more information and to get updates on the
National Military Family Bereavement Study, visit them at
information on Run for the Wall, visit them at
To get more information on
Rolling Thunder, Inc., visit them at
information on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, visit
By Rob McIlvaine
Army News Service
Comment on this article