Words by Molly Conrad, Photos by John Walker
At 9:05 AM on the morning of Saturday, February 20th, 347 runners move up to the starting line. “We run for Justin on 3!” shouts an army ROTC cadet. “1… 2… 3!” On cue, 347 runners shout, “We run for Justin!” and take off. The race begins.
In the summer of 1989, Justin Sisson was born. Upon his high school graduation, he earned an ROTC Scholarship and attended our Florida State University. During his freshman year, he joined the Florida National Guard, and a year later, he deployed with his unit as a Private First Class, spending the year in Mosul, Iraq. He received the Bronze Star recognizing his heroic service during this deployment. He returned to FSU in 2010, graduating and commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army in the spring of 2012. He was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division the following year.
Justin Sisson deployed to Afghanistan in April 2013. On June 3, 2013, while leading his platoon and providing security for Afghans in Chamkani, he was killed in action by a suicide bomber.
The loss was felt by his parents, Phyllis and Kevin Sisson. It was felt by his comrades, and by his friends. It was felt by the entire Florida State community.
In 2014, the first annual Justin Sisson Memorial 5K took place. The event raises money for the 2nd Lieutenant Justin Sisson Outstanding Cadet Award, an award given to Army ROTC cadets at Florida State who embody Justin’s courageous spirit.
The annual award is a beautiful memorial to Justin, but in a way, it was Justin’s idea; Justin was a true Seminole. On two separate occasions, he was offered an appointment to West Point, but opted to stay at FSU. In his will he wrote before his last deployment, Justin wanted a large sum of money to be donated to Florida State’s Army ROTC program. FSU meant the world to him.
Justin’s parents created a scholarship fund in their son’s name, and turned to Signe Thomas, founder and current advisor to Students for America’s Military of FSU, for help. Signe decided to organize a 5K race to fundraise for the scholarship, but the race was hardly about the money. “It’s about sharing Justin with as many people as possible,” Signe said.
And that, they certainly did.
This year, the 3rd Annual Justin Sisson Memorial 5K was organized by Ryan Kelly and Alexandra von Baillou, two Senior Army ROTC cadets. Marine, Army, Air Force, and Navy ROTC cadets participated. Veterans from all branches of the armed forces, JROTC cadets from the Tallahassee area, and civilians all ran the 3.1. miles for Justin. Even FSU President John Thrasher was present to give the opening address.
Three Army ROTC cadets won scholarships in Justin’s name this year, and hundreds of people were given the chance to hear Justin’s story. His life has already impacted thousands of people, and as this race grows every year, thousands more will be inspired and moved by Justin and his legacy.
To learn more about Justin Sisson, visit 2ltjustinsisson.com. To get involved with FSU’s military support group, Students for America’s Military, and learn how you can better support our armed forces, visit the Facebook page.