FORT WALTON BEACH — The Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) has set its sights even higher for its annual Jingle Bell Jog this year.
In its 34th year, the group hopes to attract 2,000 participants for the jog Dec. 8.
The 5K and 10K runs raise money for Special Forces Association Chapter 7, which offers support to Special Forces soldiers and their families.
“We hope we will get the support we’re looking for,” said Lt. Col. James Brownlee, a spokesman for the 7th Special Forces Group.
Last year was the first time the group held its run locally after moving to Eglin Air Force Base from Fort Bragg, N.C. The 7th Special Force Group was able to more than double participation.
At Fort Bragg, 600 to 700 runners usually turned out to jog through downtown, Brownlee said.
In Fort Walton Beach last year, 1,300 people signed up to run from Uptown Station, across the Brooks Bridge and then down Santa Rosa Boulevard on Okaloosa Island.
This year, the group has set a huge goal, Brownlee said. It has purchased 2,000 T-shirts for potential participants and hopes to draw an even larger crowd to the same route.
The Army 7th Special Forces employs about 2,200 soldiers. Currently, between 600 and 800 of them are deployed to Afghanistan and a similar number are serving in Central and South America, Brownlee said.
The Special Forces Association Chapter 7 offers support to those soldiers and about 4,000 of their family members.
“Chapter 7 was established to do things right by our soldiers and their families,” Brownlee said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Green Berets or support soldiers, our motto is ‘it’s a family business.’”
That support extends from purchasing food and providing child care for family events to helping families after a soldier is killed in combat.
For example, the association was able to help Sgt. Jesse Britton after her husband, 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Andrew Britton-Mihalo, also with the Special Forces group, was killed in Afghanistan in April. It purchased items for a memorial and had a large portrait of Britton-Mihalo printed and framed for his family.
“The Army doesn’t pay for that,” Brownlee said. “There’s not a fund out there to help families on a person-to-person basis.”
In addition, four 7th Special Forces soldiers have died in car accidents or other non-combat-related injuries since the group relocated last year, he said.
Not only is the race for a great cause, it’s also really fun, Brownlee said.
Last year, the group held its first costume contest for the jog, and Brownlee said many participants showed up in hilarious and outrageous costumes. Many people also donned Santa and elf hats and reindeer antlers.
They plan to continue the tradition this year.
After the race, prizes ranging from gift certificates to guns will be raffled off, and a live band will perform at Uptown Station.
In response to popular demand, the group will add an additional perk this year — free beer, Brownlee said.
Check-in will begin at 6 a.m. at Uptown Station. The race kicks off at 8 a.m.
Registration is $30 online through midnight Dec. 6. Participants also can register in person for $35 from 2 to 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at Uptown Station and at the starting line Dec. 8.
TO LEARN MORE: For more information about the Jingle Bell Jog or to register, visit www.sfa7.com.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Lauren Sage Reinlie at 850-315-4443 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LaurenRnwfdn.