Run for Chance |

Run for Chance

Mother, sister of fallen Marine to begin six-state fundraising trek

Dan Olsen

When 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Chance Phelps was killed in Iraq two-years ago, it left a void in his mother, Gretchen Mack. A void she filled by walking.

“I started walking to heal my brain. To heal my heart,” Mack said from her mother’s home in Craig.

It was walking, Mack decided, that she could use to aid soldiers returning

from Iraq.

She hopes that by walking 1,547 miles from California to Wyoming, she can gather donations to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, an account established to aid the families of wounded Marines.

“We’ll be walking through some of the towns that were a part of Chance’s life,” Mack said. “Through all the towns that Chance called home.”

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Phelps, a former Moffat County High School student, joined the Marines a month after graduating from Palisade High School.

He volunteered to man the .50 caliber machine gun in the turret of the lead vehicle of a convoy that was ambushed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, on April 9, 2004.

Phelps reportedly returned fire, covering the convoy until he was fatally wounded.

At Twentynine Palms Marine Base in California, the dining hall was named after Phelps for his actions in Iraq.

Phelps Hall is the starting place of Mack’s six-state walk, a trek in which her daughter Kelly will accompany her.

“If we can raise money on this walk, either by so-much-per-mile, or other donations,” Mack said. “The money helps support families that are visiting their injured soldiers.”

Mack’s daughter and Phelps’ sister, Kelly Orndoff, a former Navy petty officer and wife of an Army sergeant, has been preparing for the walk.

“I’ve been training up to 18 miles per day,” she said. “This is not a race, although we do expect to cover some ground.”

The women are enlisting family members to drive a support vehicle along the route.

Gretchen Mack’s husband, Jeff, is on their list for the first two or three weeks. Then stepdaughter Katie Whitlock will follow the walkers. Next is best friend Dawn Nottingham.

Offers of support have come from Phelps recruiter, Gunny White, and other friends of the family.

The route includes Grand Junction, Craig and Maybell, DuBois and Riverton, Wyo., ending hopefully near Mem-

orial Day, Mack said.

She hopes to someday, organize local walks here in Craig, and in Riverton, Wyo., she said.

“A yearly walk to support the vets,” Mack said.

Mack also is glad to have the company of her daughter on the trip.

“We thought we would do it together,” she said. “We’ll try to walk 20 miles a day, and rest on weekends.”

The pair has received support from the Marine Corps and friends of Phelps. A Texas oil company donated a camper to the walk.

Today the pair plans to leave from Twentynine Palms Marine base, hoping the public will follow their progress or make donations at

They plan on passing through Craig in late April, or early May. They will be on the road April 9, the three-year anniversary of Chance Phelps’ death. Mother and daughter hope the cause will ease painful memories, they said.

“There are so many wounded coming back,” Kelly said.

“A lot of people are doing really good things out there,” her mother added. “We can be another spoke in the wheel to raise awareness.

“We’re Americans. We’ve got to help them.”

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