An event of the heart’

Elle Milner said she decided to walk coast to coast with the American flag to demonstrate unity in the country.

And she thought it would be a good idea to ask firefighters, rescue workers and police officers to help her out along the way.

“I just made a few phone calls, got a great response and just did it,” Milner said Thursday morning before she and about 50 Prince William County fire and rescue workers, police officers and cadets from the Prince William County Fire and Rescue Academy left the Gar-Field substation parking lot for the Fairfax County line.

Milner said like everyone else, she wanted to do something to commemorate the Sept. 11 attacks, but she didn’t get the idea for “The Patriot Line” until later.

Her initial queries convinced her that plenty of people wanted to participate in such an event, so she began her walk in Portland, Ore., on New Year’s Day.

“I think that by January 1st, the really heavy patriotism we had after 9/11 was beginning to fade, but we’ve had amazing responses everywhere we’ve been. It’s an event of the heart,” she said.

Milner, who is not raising money for the event, said she has run into a few logistical problems along the way.

On Wednesday, a scheduling conflict with the Marines meant that Milner had to drive the flag through much of Stafford County.

“Little things like that do happen when you’re going through this with thousands of people,” the 32-year-old said. “You’re going to have to be flexible.”

Milner said the relay teams typically hand off the flag, which was donated by Portland Fire Station No. 25, at the county lines. She said she hopes to get the flag to New York City by Memorial Day.

With a little more than two weeks remaining, Milner said she has plenty of time to get to the Big Apple by her self-imposed deadline.

Prince William Fire and Rescue Capt. Jim Forgo coordinated the county’s leg of the relay and said he got more volunteers than he needed from the fire departments, and several police officers came out on their days off to walk with the team.

The academy cadets, led by a Prince William police cruiser and a couple of motorcycle cops, marched the 4.8 miles between the Gar-Field substation and the Occoquan River.

Three yellow emergency vans, a pumper truck, a few more cruisers and a couple of red battalion chief trucks brought up the rear of the procession.

Prince William police Officer Joni Jaeger walked wearing all of her police gear, including handcuffs, pistol and flashlight.

“I rearranged my schedule so I could come out and participate,” Jaeger said.

Jennifer Evans, of the Juvenile Bureau administration office, said she came out just for the fun of it.

“I like walking,” said Evans, who will join the next class at the Fire and Rescue Academy.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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