As McElroy’s children, Halee and Samuel, handed out commemorative bracelets to veterans in attendance, Cherokee County Clerk of Court Patty Baker told them there was one veteran who had not yet received a bracelet.
McElroy stepped forward to greet the children and Samuel flung his arms around his father, while friends, family, and guardsmen wiped away tears as the family reunited after almost nine months of separation.
“He hid in an office in the building, he had his head down with his hat on, then walked right up to his children,” Baker said of the surprise she helped plan. “His son stood there for a minute, and then finally said ‘Daddy!’ There was not a dry eye there.”
A Cherokee High School graduate, McElroy deployed to Kosovo with the 221st Military Intelligence Battalion in August 2011. An avid runner, McElroy came up with the idea of a “shadow run” in Kosovo to coincide with the 35th annual National Guard Marathon/Half Marathon in Lincoln, Neb.
Baker and Amanda Jobe, a fellow running enthusiast, heard of McElroy’s plan and decided they too could plan a “shadow run” to support Scott and the troops in Kosovo and soon attracted community-wide support.
“The number of participants grew as the word spread,” Baker said. “At first there were going to be about 10 people taking part in the run … (but) more than 40 people signed up.”
Even more showed up before the run started.
“About two weeks ago, Scott sent me a message,” Baker said. “He told me to keep a secret. ... He had been in a hospital in Germany for the past month. He was injured in Iraq, reinjured in Kosovo and sent to Germany. They couldn’t fix him there and sent him home to the states.”
The soldier told Baker he was working on coming home for race day. His children and parents didn’t know.
“No one knew except me and his sister who works for sheriff’s office,” Baker said. “He said knowing what we’re doing was keeping him going.”
Other fellow runners got in on the act too.
The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department and Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services used the event as a joint training mission. Mark Vescio of Run For It Productions donated food, water and sports drinks.
“I am involved in a lot of community events, but this is by far the most rewarding,” Baker said.
Ken Locke and Danny Higgins, McElroy’s coworkers in the sheriff’s department, worked for two months to map out the race course while Baker organized volunteers and sponsors.
“I was happy to be a part of this and to contribute to the effort,” Locke said. “I hope that this is something we can continue in the years to come.”
The half-marathon’s course began at the Georgia National Guard Armory in Canton and wound through hills, forest and demanding terrain on a narrow hiking trail.
Initially, McElroy was going to send an Internet message to the runners to start the race. However, in a surprise twist, McElroy returned to Georgia on leave just days before the race.
“This is amazing,” McElroy said of being able to attend the race. “The community response has been overwhelming.”
Baker said, “It was just a very emotional time right before we were getting ready to run. We were doing this for Scott.”