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SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Sometimes she walks or runs with a friend, and then she's got someone to talk with and motivate her. But many times she walks with just her music and her thoughts, and it allows her to remember just what she's walking for.
Master Sgt. Laurie Cherry, the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron first sergeant, is preparing to participate in a three-day, 60-mile walk to support breast cancer research and awareness. Nov. 9-11.
About three years ago, a very close family member to Cherry was diagnosed with stage -hree breast cancer. Though the loved one survived, the experience was very traumatic.
"I was the primary care giver for an entire year of my life," said Cherry, who is a Tucson, Ariz., native deployed from the Arizona Air National Guard at Luke Air Force Base. "I don't ever, ever want to do that again, and I don't want anybody else to have to do that again with someone that they love.
"It was an experience that completely changed me," she said. "Watching somebody that you truly love so much go through that, it isn't right. I just want to do my little part to try to stop this horrible disease that touches almost everybody."
Though she's deployed to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, Cherry will be walking with others participating in the same event in Phoenix on the same days. She was originally supposed to walk the 20 daily miles with them.
"I signed up for the Susan G. Komen three-day walk in January," Cherry said. "At the end of March, I volunteered for this deployment because my unit needed a first sergeant. It wasn't until after I volunteered that I realized I would still be (deployed) during the three-day walk."
She said she had two choices: quit and try again next year, or make the walk from her deployed location.
"I chose option B, obviously," the first sergeant said.
Cherry said she got permission from the foundation and her deployment commander to participate in the walk while she is deployed.
"I've fully supported her from the beginning," said Lt. Col. William Neri, the 727th EACS commander. "I think Master Sgt. Cherry is doing a wonderful thing under extraordinary circumstances. It's hard enough to do this at home, never mind halfway around the world while still performing as first sergeant for 100 Airmen.
"It says a great deal about her as a person that she's doing this," he said. "It shows what a good person she is and how much she cares about people, which is also why she's such a great shirt."
Cherry said the foundation has also been very supportive, assigning her a civilian media representative to tell her story at home and making plans to interact with her through social media during the event.
"They've made a lot of efforts to try to make me feel included, even though I'll be here doing my own little internal journey," Cherry said.
To walk the event here, Cherry got permission from the public affairs and legal offices for the media coverage and her fundraising.
"My fundraising essentially stopped after I got here," she said. "I went to the (judge advocate general's) office to find out what I could and couldn't do, they helped me with the wording and told me what I could say and couldn't say, and the Top 3 council was nice enough to sponsor a fundraiser."
The fundraiser raised $2,000 in a matter of hours.
"I was at one point worried about meeting my minimum, which is $2,300," Cherry said. "I went from worrying about that, to just short of $5,000. My goal was to raise $5,000 and with any luck over the next few weeks, I'll finish that."
Cherry said she plans to follow the rules of the race as closely as possible, meaning she will only walk for the 20 miles each day.
"I was planning on actually run-walking to get it done faster, so I could get to work, but I'm going to stick with that rule," she said.
She will also carry the race registration number she was given that she was to walk with during the event in Phoenix.
"If I can get permission, I'll wear it," Cherry said. "If not, I'll put it in my pocket and have it on me."
Cherry has been training constantly to prepare for the walk.
"The training part's been difficult, just with the amount of hours in the day that I work," she said. "It's been hard to find time."
She recently completed an 18-mile walk however, her longest so far.
"I was pretty tired and sore when I got done," Cherry said. "I knew I had some blisters going on. thought I would be miserable the next day, but the next day the only thing that bothered me was the blisters."
Though she trains on her own, she's also had a lot of support from her squadron and the wing.
"Master Sgt. Carrie Traverse has been fantastic," she said. "She's been walking with me every Tuesday and Thursday morning and sometimes on the weekend. We do up to 12 or 13 miles on some of those days. She's been incredible and hugely motivational."
"I think it's a great thing she's doing to bring awareness to breast cancer," Traverse said. "She has such a passion and drive for what she's doing. She's been out there sick, with blisters and just keeps chugging along. Any support she can get, I just wanted to be a part of it."
As the walk draws near, Cherry said she is thankful for the support, but her time alone is also important.
"When I walk alone it's me and my iPod and my brain," she said. "I just don't want to lose sight of why I'm doing this with the whole circus that's going on outside of me. The times when I walk alone are the times when I just really zero in and hold desperately tight to that.
"That being said, I need people," Cherry said. "There are people who plan on jumping in for a couple of miles, there are people who have told me they're going to do the whole thing. I've heard people tell me they're just going to stand there and hand me a bottle of water when I come by. I've heard it all, and I'll take whatever I can get."
Come Nov. 9, Cherry said she'll be ready to do her part in the fight against breast cancer.
"I'm nervous, but at this point I think the blisters will be the hardest part," she said.