IU, Purdue join forces to deliver game ball, honor fallen soldiers

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Bryan Morris of the Purdue Veterans Student Organization is joined Saturday by ROTC cadets from all three military branches as he runs the game ball to Ross-Ade Stadium.

This year the method of delivery for the game ball used in the Old Oaken Bucket game was a little different.

Friday and Saturday, veterans and ROTC members at both Purdue and Indiana universities joined forces to run the football 110 miles over two days from Bloomington to West Lafayette.

IU ROTC students began the run up U.S. 231 before handing the ball over to Purdue ROTC in Cloverdale. Purdue ROTC students then continued to Crawfordsville.

On Saturday morning, the Purdue Veterans Student Organization ran the final leg, delivering the ball to Ross-Ade Stadium, where they turned it directly over to head coach Danny Hope.

During the run, the runners carried a Purdue and IU flag covered with the names of Indiana’s fallen soldiers dating back to World War I.

The run gave the rival schools a chance to team up and raise awareness for student veterans, said Bryan Morris, vice president of the Purdue Veterans Student Organization and organizer of the run.

But for Morris, who spent two combat tours in Iraq as a fire team leader and infantry squad leader, the event has a deeper meaning.

That’s because proceeds from the run went to Operation Bedding, founded in honor of a fallen soldier Morris served with in Iraq.

Operation Bedding aims to raise funds and supplies for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is run through the Adam Conboy Memorial Fund in honor of Lance Cpl. Adam Conboy, who was killed on May 12, 2006, while serving in Iraq.

Conboy and Morris were in the same battalion, and when Morris proposed the idea for the run to Adam’s mother, Mary Conboy, who runs the foundation, Morris said she was excited.

“It gave her the opportunity to be around the service members and I guess to just help with the healing process,” Morris said.

Conboy, who watched while the ball was delivered to the stadium, said it was an “amazing tribute” to her son, who she said was the reason she began Operation Bedding.

On a Sunday morning in 2006, Conboy received a phone call from her son requesting pillows and sheets. But he requested that she not send those things unless she could send enough for the rest of his fellow soldiers -- about 40 sets of bedding.

“My response was, ‘Where am I going to get 40?’ and he said, ‘Get operation bedding going, Mom,’ ” she said. “That Friday he was killed.”

Conboy said it costs between $600 and $800 per shipment. She hopes to continue sending supplies until every soldier is home safely.

“It*rsquo;s a double-edged sword,” Conboy said. “I would love to have my son, but it’s just amazing to see how many lives he’s touched with just a simple request. It does help us with our grieving process.”

Conboy said she hopes the run reminds others of the sacrifices those serving in the military make.

“I hope they stop in their daily lives and give what they can, and it doesn’t have to be monetary,” Conboy said. “Just write a letter and just say thank you. That’s just as important.”

Morris said he hopes to organize a run again next year. He said he hopes this year’s success may streamline the process the group had to go through to get approval from Purdue officials.

Morris said Purdue officials were initially hesitant of the idea and were concerned about the temperature and whether the group could deliver the ball on time.

In fact, Morris said the ball arrived 11 minutes early.

“We’re military guys,” Morris said. “We put a lot of attention into detail, and that’s why I think it worked so precisely. I think the university’s going to see that and, I think, give us a little quicker process.”