Courier Staff Writer
A charity race is being organized to honor one of Ottumwa’s own, Staff Sgt. Joseph J. Hamski, who was killed while deployed in Afghanistan in 2011.
Hamski’s mother, Mary Ellen Winston, said the idea for an Ottumwa “Jog for Joe” began after she and her husband participated in the Iowa Remembrance Run (a race for families of Iowa’s fallen soldiers) in Des Moines in September.
Winston’s son-in-law, Carl Hensley, said the entire family should make a team for this year’s Remembrance Run.
“Then he got the idea of why don’t we do a ‘Jog for Joe in Ottumwa?’” Winston said.
Last summer, a “Jog for Joe” was held in Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, where he had been stationed before deploying to Afghanistan. His widow was still living there last year and decided to form the charity race on the base.
“My daughter and I had been to Germany for the first one they had there,” Winston said. “We thought well, let’s do one here in Ottumwa. Joseph died over Memorial Day weekend, which is a good time to do it because it’s coinciding with his death anniversary.”
Hamski, 28, was killed on May 26, 2011, while serving in the U.S. Air Force in the Shorabak district of Kandahar province in Afghanistan. Enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
Proceeds raised from the race will go toward the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation and Fisher House Foundation.
“I decided on Fisher House because of my experience when I went out for the dignified transfer at Dover, Del.," she said.
Fisher Houses provide a place for families of fallen or wounded soldiers to stay while they await their return.
“It is an absolutely wonderful place for a horrible time,” she said. “After doing more research, I found Fisher Houses all across the country that help families at little to no cost.”
Hamski was also an EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) specialist. The rest of the proceeds will go toward the foundation to help wounded EOD specialists, as well as the upkeep of the EOD memorial at Eglin Air Base in Florida. The foundation also provides scholarships for survivors — spouses and children — of EOD specialists.
“Since it’s Memorial Day weekend and there’s so much thought of military families and those who’ve passed, for one thing I just want everyone to remember how much sacrifice so many have made — not just our family,” she said. “So many families have been touched by war, not just because of death but because of the wounded, as well.”
Winston also said she wants people participating in the race to have a good time.
“Joe wanted people to be happy,” she said. “His main course in life was to have everyone else around him be happy. So we want people to come out, have a good time, be healthy and support other causes that look beyond ourselves.”
The race should not be a day of grief, she said.
“He would probably rain on our parade if that happened,” she laughed. “Literally, the day his body flew into town it poured. I have not seen rain pour like that in I don’t know how long. If we’re all somber and sober and sad, he will send rain. He’ll say, ‘Hey, Lord, can you rain on them a little bit?’”
While Hamski died two years ago, Winston said she and her family weren’t ready for something like this last year.
“It was too fresh, too raw,” she said. “It would’ve been too hard.”
Jog for Joe:
9 a.m. Memorial Day, May 27
5K race in Ottumwa Park
$20 per person ($10 for participants 18 and under)
Register for the race at active.com and search for “Ottumwa Jog for Joe”
All proceeds will be donated to The Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation and Fisher House Foundation