INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s hard to find another sporting event so rooted in American tradition as the Indianapolis 500. It’s a tradition that wouldn't be possible if it weren't for those who protect it.
"I just wanted to be of service, service to my country,” said Kenneth Fodrie, a Medical Readiness NCO for the 38th Infantry Division of the Indiana National Guard.
Fodrie is a Hoosier, born and raised. He enlisted in the Indiana National Guard right after high school at the age of 17. Now more than 20 years later, he's a married father of two boys getting ready for his third deployment to the Middle East.
“You don’t want to leave behind what you are leaving behind, but you’re making the world a better place for your family," Fodrie said. "You just hold on to that.”
Fodrie is just one of roughly 600 men and women from the Indiana National Guard that are packing their bags, leaving home for about nine months.
”It’s going to be hard, especially because I was just gone for six months, said Kaitlynn Schlitt, a fueler with the 38th Infantry who just finished her training in October. "To turn around and go back for another long time… it’s going to be hard for them (family).”
Before these soldiers leave, they’ll be making a stop on the infield at the Indy 500. For the first time in the race's history, a departure ceremony will be held in front of the entire crowd.
“I grew up right near IMS and my father drove modified stock cars, so racing was a part of our culture as we grew up," Fodrie said. "To be able to be out on the track during the event is something that’s really cool and not a lot of people get to do.”
“I think it’s amazing to see how many prideful people will be out there cheering us on for what we’re doing,” said Rachel Hoke, a mechanic with the 38th Infantry division. "I’ve been to the 500 before so I know how many people will be there, I know what the atmosphere looks like, but I've never been on the inside looking out. So I'm really excited to get that feeling.”
The most important people cheering them on will be on the infield with them... the family members they’re leaving behind.
"My hometown, everyone, all my friends go to Indy 500 races so they’re all supporting me back there," Schlitt said. "Knowing I have that support will get me through this deployment.”
Fodrie will be joined by his wife, who's also former military. In fact, they were deployed together in Iraq in 2004. However, he's sad to leave her behind.
“I tell her all the time she has the harder part, because I'm going forward to do one job and do one thing different, and she has to stay behind and do everything I’m not able to do,” Fodrie said.
While his 11-year-old son will be with his wife, his 20-year-old son can't make it. He’s busy following his father's footsteps, now stationed at Camp Pendleton in California as a Marine.
“I can’t really express the pride I have in my son,” Fodrie said as tears filled his eyes. "I watched him for years dream to become a marine, and when I put him on the bus to go... It’s the proudest I’ve ever been in my life.”
Just as that pride washes over Fodrie, that same American pride will wash over hundreds of racing fans, a pride that will shine as they cheer for 500 miles, and 600 American heroes.
The half-hour ceremony will take place on the infield near the IMS Museum and will begin at 10 a.m. on race day.