LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) – Memorial Day Weekend is still a few weeks away, but already volunteers are well underway on a long journey to raise awareness about the true meaning of the holiday.

The group is called Carry The Load and for the past decade they’ve organized a nationwide relay to honor and remember military and first responders, which has continued to grow. On Sunday, their trek crossed through Lexington and Richmond.  

“One of the mottos of ‘Carry the Load’ is that you die two deaths. The first one when your breath leaves your body…,” Smitty Searls told FOX 56.

“..and once whenever someone quits saying their name, and so I want to keep saying their name,” Bryan Kuh added.

Since 2011, Carry The Load’s mission has been a campaign of awareness. Mile by mile, walkers carry the names of fallen heroes on their backs. The contiguous length of the national relay spans roughly 20,000 miles.

With now 5 routes across the country, this is the first year they are crossing all 48 states in the continental US.

“For those who have lost a loved one, that have a loved one that paid the ultimate price that made the ultimate sacrifice – this is the most important holiday of the year for them. They want to know that America knows the cost of that sacrifice, that they remember that sacrifice, and they honor that life that was given,” Searls said.

Searls is a resident of Lacrosse, Wisconsin, and has participated in each relay since the movement started.  

Kuh is a Marine Corps veteran who got involved with Carry The Load through a friend. This year he was hired on as a medic for a 10-day stint during the campaign’s monthlong walk to Dallas.

“My buddy sent me a bunch of names, unfortunately, he had 11 names for me to carry, and this is going to be halfway through his list. And so, I’ve already carried the buddies that I knew and so I want to carry the friends of friends,” Kuh said.

“Anybody who has lost someone is welcome to fill out one of those race bibs and we’ll walk a leg in their honor those race bibs then go in their back pack and they’re carried all the way to Dallas,” Searls said.

Sometimes in singles, by the dozens, or in some cities even hundreds, the volunteers have had many come and go along the way, sharing stories with other veterans and ensuring no sacrifice is forgotten.

“I just love the opportunity that I’m able to actually walk for my friends as well – I line up vacation days just like anyone else would probably have to do, but it’s worth it,” Kuh said.

If you’d like to get involved it’s not too late, anyone is welcome to join in the relay and send in names to be honored. On Monday, the route picks up in Knoxville, Tennessee before ending in Dallas for Memorial Day. To learn more visit CarryTheLoad.org