The K.I.A. Memorial Roadmarch ("KMR") started when SGM Jason Jaskula wanted to find a way to honor the memory of his Battle Buddy, Christopher Dill. Chris, a Staff Sgt. in the United States Army Reserves as well as a Buffalo Firefighter, was Killed In Action (K.I.A.) while deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom on April 4, 2005 in Diyala, Iraq. He left behind family and friends who deeply miss him. Chris is always at the forefront when planning the March, especially when creating the Squad Challenges. Jason can often be heard asking ‘What would Chris do’.
When Jason returned from Iraq he volunteered wherever he could to help local Veterans, assisting with events such as Department of Veteran Affairs ‘Welcome Home Troops’ event and the Olympic-themed ‘Veterans Golden Age Games’. He also became a Buffalo Veterans Court Mentor. Meeting the families of Veterans who did not come home, and returning veterans who also lost good friends, had a profound effect on Jason as worked through his own grief for Chris. In trying to find a way to honor Chris’ memory, he realized that there was no single public event in Western New York to honor service members K.I.A.
On November 23, 2012 the first K.I.A. Memorial Roadmarch was held. It was a solo March, with Jason walking 22K carrying 60lbs of Memorial Rocks. Each rock barred the name of a service member from WNY K.I.A. during Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND). It took him 3 hours 20 minutes and he raised $4,000.
Wanting to do more Jason connected with a friend who, with her experience in fundraising and event planning, helped create the event as it is today - 10K Ruck March on the hilly trail at Chestnut Ridge Park. KMR over the last 4 years along with its Roadmarchers have raised 50,000lbs of food, all to help local Veterans in need.
To Honor and remember the members of our Armed Forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice protecting our Country.
KMR donates the food that is carried by the Roadmarchers to three (3) local community food pantries to help Veterans in need:
- Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 77 Pantry
- Gold Star Mother's Pantry
- Buffalo State College Milligan's Pantry
Funds raised by KMR are used to support organizations such as Buffalo Treatment Court Mentors program www.buffaloveteranscourt.org , the Gold Star Mothers (GSM) and other programs supporting our Veterans.
The Battle Staff Board of Directors
SGM Jason Jaskula has served in the Army for the past 26 years, and is currently part of the 75th Training Command. SGM Jaskula deployed to Iraq alongside SFC Freund and SSG DIll in 2004. Additionally all three served as Drill Sergeants together for many years before they were deployed. SGM Jaskula is a retired Deputy Chief of Police and currently works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. SGM Jaskula belongs to the VFW, 40/8, American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans Organizations. SGM Jaskula serves on the KMR Board of Directors as the President. He is in absolute awe of the community support KMR has received over the years and loves the families and friends who donate their time and talents to the KMR each year!
SFC Thomas Freund has served in the military for the past 25 years. SFC Freund is currently acting as the S6 ( Information Technology Operations Sergeant) for the 98th Division, 1/390th. SFC Freund was deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005. Prior to that, SFC Freund was a Drill Sergeant alongside SGM Jaskula and SSG Christopher Dill for many years. SFC Freund currently works for the US Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information & Technology. SFC Freund is a Commander for the VFW and also belongs to the 40/8 Veterans organization. SFC Freund has taken an active role for the past four years with the KMR Battle Staff and is currently the Vice President on the Board of Directors.
Katherine Smythe began her career as a High School English teacher before she decided she wanted to do something for the Veterans who have served our country and has been employed at the Buffalo VA Medical Center for 40 years. She is the Program Manager/Clinical Social Worker for the new Veterans, Service Members and their families who have served in the military since 1999. She is responsible for the initiation and oversight of the second longest employee day care (1981) operating in the VA system. She is the President of the Board of Directors. In 2011, she wrote a proposal for a pilot day care for Veterans and it was the first to open in the country. Since then, there are only two other sites with this pilot program. Ms. Smythe has enjoyed her numerous entrepreneur undertakings as a previous owner/operator of several local businesses (Laundromat, rooming house, motel, & restaurant). Currently, she owns a landscaping/snowplowing business. She serves on the KMR Board of Directors as the Secretary.
Gwen Fitzgerald grew up in Fredonia, NY. She received her BS in Human Ecology from Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA in 2001, and began her social work career in the child welfare field. She graduated with her MSW from the University at Buffalo in 2006. Following graduation she worked in the outpatient mental health field with adults in an individual and group setting, as well as with refugees. Gwen has been employed by the VA of WNY Health Care system for 5 years as a social worker in the Suicide Prevention program and is a 2017 recipient of the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor Award.