Green Beret and Army Master Sergeant Chad Conley may be about to retire after 20 years of service to this country, but he’s just getting started.
“I came into the service back in 2003 as 18x. I was in college during 9/11 and just felt like I had to do something. I had a bunch of family stuff happen that made me take a step back and evaluate what's going on and at that point, I knew I wanted to serve. So with blue hair, and some big gauge earrings and some other piercings, I walk into a recruiter station,” he laughed. “I looked at the Navy guy and he just turned his head, looked at me and shook his head and kind of walked back to his office. The Army talked to me, and the next thing I knew, I signed an 18x contract.”
There wasn’t a long line of military service, though his father was in the Marine Corps before he was born. His signature with the recruiter ensured he’d head right to the “Q” course after basic training. After finishing the grueling requirements, Conley earned his long tab and the coveted Green Beret. He was assigned to 10th Special Forces Group out of Colorado and spent his entire career there.
About two years ago, he helped set up the Summit program for the group, allowing transitioning Green Berets to do so successfully in wrap-around services. Mental health providers, Warrior Care Coalition and organizations like the Green Beret Foundation come in to work with the team guys, giving them the support they need as they leave the service.
But he wanted to do even more.
“During the height of the pandemic in March of 2020 we didn’t know what was going on and I was still dealing with some deaths from combat and suicide,” Conley explained. “I was going to therapy and it was helpful but I wanted to do something deeper within myself.”
The idea for a ruck was born, 50 miles in 18 hours. “I got so tired going up this one hill and my ruck was so heavy. Out of nowhere I started screaming my friend Pat’s name and then I’m crying and just letting it all out,” he added.
Then his friends wanted to join in and before long the next one was in New York City on the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “We started at Yankee Stadium and ended up at ground zero. That was the first official 50 for the fallen,” Conley shared. “I found that the experience was like medicine for a lot of people. At the beginning of each event I ask people to set their intentions and determine why they’re doing it.”
It’s gotten bigger with the new partnership with Spartan Race. The plan is to have multiple events all over the country. “People are able to actually open up because once you're tired and you're all beat up and dirty. your ego is gone and all you have is yourself. At that point you might as well just be who you are,” he said.
The team just wrapped up a successful event in Atlanta with the next one planned for Austin in April. In the next year, Conley wants to take it international. More than the physical and mental challenge of 50 miles through the night, it’s about the moments between participants. The stories and comradery shared as everyone puts everything into the journey.
To commemorate 9/11 for 2023, there will be a 50 for the Fallen in New York City, Washington, D.C. and at the United 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania.
“You don’t have to do all 50 miles either. We have a car that will bring you to certain points and pick you up if you are struggling,” Conley explained. “Everything we raise for these events sends veterans to outpatient therapies and mental healthtreatments. That’s my goal in all this, making sure people get the help they need.”
To learn more about 50 for the Fallen and join in, click here.