Friends, military members, veterans and members of Florida State University’s campus community are set to gather Saturday, Feb. 25, on Langford Green, to participate in the 10th annual 2nd Lt. Justin Sisson 5K Run/Walk for the Fallen.
The event, which will begin at 8 a.m., gives veterans, active-duty service members, students and members of the university community the opportunity to raise scholarship funds and pay respects to the memory of a distinguished FSU graduate.
Sisson, an FSU Army Reserve Officer Training Corps alumnus, was killed in action in Afghanistan in June 2013. The event commemorates his legacy and is a fundraiser for the Justin Sisson Outstanding Cadet Scholarship fund, which, as of 2022, has provided more than 30 scholarships to deserving FSU ROTC cadets and student veterans who embody Sisson’s courage, dedication and devotion to family and country.
“Fulfilling our son’s wishes and honoring him in a place that meant a lot to him is very gratifying,” said Kevin Sisson, Justin’s father. “The race’s impact reaches far beyond the scholarship aid. Those who have seen so much devastation come together, laugh, cry and heal a bit. Some seek camaraderie, others need some closure. Regardless, the race provides a place to come and fill that need, if only for a while.”
Between 2008 and 2009, Sisson turned down two separate appointments to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, opting to accept an ROTC scholarship from FSU, his father’s alma mater. Sisson joined the National Guard during his freshman year, and between his sophomore and junior years, he deployed for one year in Mosul, Iraq, with the National Guard as a private first class. During this deployment, Sisson earned the Bronze Star, a highly unusual decoration for a nonofficer and the fourth-highest honor a service member can receive in the U.S. military, along with a promotion to specialist for his exceptional service.
Sisson returned to FSU in 2010 to finish his college education. In 2012, he graduated and commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. As the top cadet in his FSU ROTC class, Sisson earned the George C. Marshall Award, which is given based on a cadet’s scholarship, leadership, physical fitness and community involvement. He was also the honor graduate, or first in his class, in his infantry basic officer leader course. Sisson was assigned to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in January 2013. At age 23, he deployed to Afghanistan and was killed in action by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber while leading his platoon and providing security for the Afghans in Chamkani.
During his career in the Army, Sisson earned two Bronze Star medals with Oak Leaf Cluster, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, Army Achievement Medal, Sapper Tab and Ranger Tab, Airborne Badge, Air Assault Badge and Parachutist Badge. He is buried at Leavenworth National Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas.
According to professor of military science Army Lt. Col. Travis Owen, Sisson’s continued legacy serves as a reminder to FSU ROTC cadets that military service can come with serious costs to service members’ lives and families.
“The Justin Sisson 5K teaches cadets what it means to serve and sacrifice for our nation,” Owen said. “We can never forget those who lay down their lives defending our ways of life and freedom.”
The annual event has become a constant on the ROTC calendar and continued to inspire cadets and members of the FSU community, but this year marks the final iteration. While Sisson’s parents, who have relocated to the Southwest in the years since the race first began, are sad to close this chapter, they believe it is time to turn the page.
“We will certainly miss our trips to Tallahassee, but we are working on the next chapter in honoring our son, focusing on needs here in the Phoenix area,” Kevin Sisson said.
To learn more about the race and to register, visit runsignup.com/Race/FL/Tallahassee/10thSisson5k.