Airman takes great strides chasing a good cause

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Emerald Ralston
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
From running up and down the one-mile stretch of driveway at his childhood home to running the 225 miles from Malmstrom to Billings, Mont., Airman 1st Class Mitchell Fields, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron, has made great strides chasing his dream of running for a cause. 

Airman Fields is running to support the Red Cross' National Disaster Fund July 6, and is gaining support and donations from local organizations. 

His love for running began when he was very young, watching his older brother and sister and their involvement with cross country teams. 

"Little kids usually look up to their older siblings, so when I saw them always running around, I started running around too," Airman Fields said. "When I lived in Indiana, I had a driveway that was a mile long. Every day before school, I'd grab my bag and run to the bus stop, then the same thing when I came home or when someone forgot to check the mail at the end of the driveway. That's probably where my love for running started." 

Airman Fields then moved to Wisconsin, where his love for running progressed and developed. He became involved with his school's cross country team in 6th grade and began competing the following year. 

"I was only on that team for a year, then I moved to South Dakota, where I met Coach Salmi," Airman Fields said. "He was a coach for 33 years and he is still running today at 74 years old. He's been hit by two cars and broken his legs, but he never gave up the sport. He taught me a lot about running - how to pick yourself up and keep on going. He was a father-figure to those of us on his team." 

With the motivation from his coach and his own inner drive, Airman Fields made it through high school participating in cross country competitions the entire time, despite various injuries, pushing himself harder and farther with each race. 

During his senior year of high school, Airman Fields began to explore the idea of joining the military, he said. 

"After cross country was over my senior year of high school, it was the first time I considered joining the Air Force," he said. "Although cross country was over, I started working out multiple times a day. I'd wake up, run seven miles, go swimming for 45 minutes, go to school, attend one class, go to gym class, swim over my lunch break, another gym class, then electronics class. My electronics teacher was retired Air Force and he was the one who got me thinking about joining." 

But Airman Fields went to college, with the Air Force still in the back of his mind.
"I moved to La Cross, Wis., which is known for their great athletics," he said. "I joined a lot of clubs and was very involved with biking, running, kayaking, rollerblading, rock climbing, hiking, camping - you name it. There was always a group of us being active and experiencing new things." 

After a while at La Crosse though, Airman Fields decided he wanted to come to Montana, due to the terrain, the location and the surroundings. After considering different options to get to Montana, Airman Fields decided it was finally time to join the military. 

"I talked to a recruiter and talked about different jobs that I could do that would get me stationed at Malmstrom," he said. "When he offered me this job and said there was a 1-in-3 chance I'd end up in Montana, I was very eager to get started." 

In basic training, Airman Fields said he was his and his sister flight's unofficial PT leader. 

"There were many nights where I'd be up past lights-out with members of my flight who wanted to improve their push-ups or sit-ups," he said. "It continued like that through tech school as well." 

Since he has been stationed here, Airman Fields said he's focused primarily on running, as opposed to other activities such as biking and swimming. He runs off base generally, and has two routes he follows. 

"I currently run two loops. One is 18.2 miles and the other is 22.5 miles," he said. "I start at the dorms and run through the south gate, along the river to Wal-Mart, then to the fairgrounds. Then I hit 10th Ave. S. At that point I either cross the bridge and head up toward the airport, or I just head back on 10th toward the base." 

Airman Fields even runs outside during snow and rain. 

"I forced myself to run outside in the snow," he said. "I like the cold and I've run in blizzards. As long as you keep your eyes and face covered, and you keep your hands and feet dry and warm, you're good to go." 

Once Airman Fields realized he could make the 22.5-mile run and not be too exhausted or uncomfortable, he remembered a conversation he had with a friend years earlier. 

"A long time ago, my friend and I were talking about what we were going to do with our lives," he said. "When it was my turn to share my idea, I said I'd like to be a professional runner. I wanted to have a job where all I did was raise money for things through running, like cancer societies, aid organizations - things like that. At the end of that discussion, I decided that's what I was going to do with my life." 

Once he got comfortable with his running, he decided to talk to the Red Cross. 

"I went to the Red Cross and told them my idea," he said. "They were very eager, but also a little suspicious at first. Once they saw me running around town, though, they got pretty excited about it." 

At that point, Airman Fields was asked to decide which kind of fundraiser he'd like to do. 

"I decided to do the National Disaster Fundraiser," Airman Fields said. "A lot of people have asked me why, out of the five options, did I pick National Disaster Fund, instead of a local fund or something else." 

The National Disaster Fund hits closer to home for Airman Fields than the other ones, he said. 

"When I was in basic training, the town where my sister lives in South Dakota had pretty bad floods," he said. "The Red Cross went and helped people get food and water because water was undrinkable. The Red Cross was there." 

"Then the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota - my brother lived about six blocks away from there," Airman Fields said. "He was one of the first responders and was there before the ambulances. He found someone to drive to the hospital and helped pull out eight or nine victims from the water. The Red Cross showed up shortly thereafter." 

"My parents live in La Crosse and there was a landslide that happened there," he said. "Millions of dollars were sustained in damage. The bluffs got too moist and slid into houses and buildings. My parents lost a good chunk of property, and the Red Cross was there to help with that also." 

"So that's mainly why I decided to help the Red Cross' National Disaster Fund," he explained. "The Red Cross has done a lot to help my family and the areas they live in. I feel it's, in a way, my turn to help them out for helping my family." 

Airman Fields said if he can use his ability and his drive to accomplish something for a cause, he felt like he should. 

"The Red Cross was very happy to hear I was planning to do this event," he said. "Someone in the National Disaster Fund talked to me the other day and said she was thankful I decided to help with this fund. There are so many simple things the Red Cross needs money for. Things like towels and cots. So no matter what, even if we don't reach our fundraising goal, hopefully this will raise awareness." 

"They were excited when I told them my plan," he said. "I'll be running from Great Falls to Billings, having an RV follow me with a bed and food, and we're going to put signs up on it to advertise the Red Cross. Then we start the trip!" 

Currently the projected time frame is eight days, but Airman Fields said he can see it being done in five or six days instead. 

"The most I've ever done in one day was 50 miles," he said. "I'm going to start by doing 30 the first day, the move to 36, 40, and so on. I'm going to take breaks to eat, rehydrate and not give myself the opportunity to get tired." 

Airman Fields has also found sponsors for the event. Albertsons is supplying food and sports drinks, and Scheels will be donating night gear, reflector tape and a head lamp for whenever Airman Fields runs after dark. 

As for donations to the fund, Airman Fields said acquiring those donations was a little trickier. 

"A lot of major corporations already donate to the Red Cross each year, so they're less willing to donate for a specific event," he said. "But smaller businesses are really eager to donate." 

Eventually, if this event goes well, Airman Fields said he'd like to do as many events like this as he can, culminating in his life-long goal of running across the United States, from New York to California. 

"I've been focusing on this since before I even considered the military," Airman Fields said. "I see this event as a stepping stone to bigger and better things to raise awareness as much as possible. It's great that I can do that while doing something I love. This is a good way to do it because hearing about someone trying to make money might not directly raise money for the event, but it raises money overall, because it gets the word out. The Red Cross just really needs help." 

Airman Fields also said he is glad he can do this as a military representative as well. 

"Things like this are why the military is here," he said. "We're not all about going to war, we're not about being troublemakers in town - we're about helping the community. We're here to serve." 

How to donate:
Those interested in donating to the American Red Cross can send a check with Mitchell Fields' name on the memo line to P.O. Box 2406, Great Falls, Mont., 59403, or donate online at and include Fields' name in the "honor or memorial donation" box.