By U.S. Army Capt. Christine Krueger
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Service members wear the same thing while they run, but they don’t run for the same reasons. Shortly after arriving, U.S. Army Chaplain (Maj.) Stanton Trotter, of La Palma, Calif., threw down the 82nd Challenge—running the perimeter of the airfield 82 times during the deployment.
Measuring roughly 7.5 miles, at first glance it doesn’t seem too extreme, especially to the avid runner. With a total test of 600 miles, the T-shirt payoff may seem insignificant.
To complete the challenge, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade troopers have to battle altitude; Bagram is 4,985 feet above sea level; around 4,600 feet higher than their home station of Fort Bragg, N.C. They also have to battle winds and dust; when there will be no relief to a runner from the dust getting kicked up into every eye, nose, ear and mouth. Then there are the rocket and mortar attacks; random road closures; extreme temperatures; and a 12-hour, 7-day work week to contend with. All totalled, there’s a lot standing in the way.
Those who run are as diverse as they are inspirational. Some chose to run because that’s what they do. They are the tri-athletes and marathon runners- the ones that accepted the challenge without a second thought. To these soldiers, the challenge makes Afghanistan feel like home. The grind of squeezing runs into a hectic schedule is a nostalgic reminder of the rigorous training they did at home.
Then there is U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Chui, who runs because it provides a challenge and a goal to work towards for the next year. A sheet metal repairer who works on aircraft repairing blades and bullet holes, he competes in a few races at home, but runs mostly for the pride and to stay in shape.
“I run mostly for the fulfillment and the challenge,” said Chiu of San Mateo, Calif. “Plus with so much going on each day it’s nice to start with a moment to myself.”
Now two or three days a week, up to seven others join him on his morning lap around the airfield.
“I run just so that in the future I can see my grandkids grow up,” said U.S. Army Spc. Trevor Harrison.
Some are using this challenge as a stepping stone towards a larger goal. Some have plans to run half marathons and full marathons when they get home, so having running buddies helps get them out on the road.
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Dickerson runs for fulfillment. As a senior enlisted leader, he works all day mentoring soldiers and setting the example for the younger, less-experienced mechanics, but desires a sense of accomplishment that is not tied to work.
On a previous deployment, Dickerson trained for, and then completed a marathon. Runners who have completed one know that with a 9:00 to 5:00 job and weekends off to fit in long runs, it’s still no easy task.
“Running here is a nice escape from reality and the stress of a combat zone,” said Dickerson, of Sanford, N.C. “After last deployment, I swore to myself I would never run another marathon; I just could not walk away from the challenge.”
A few runners are using the challenge as a connection to family. It’s a way to bridge a gap of thousands of miles. Many married couples have a tough time with conversation during deployment, because all of the familiar things have disappeared. Through a shared workout challenge though, there’s something common to talk about.
“I think it actually does more good for her than me,” said Trotter. “I’d run anyhow, but it motivates her to run 7.5 miles so we have something in common. We compare our runs a lot. It’s great to have that in common.”
U.S. Army Capts. David and Christine Krueger are separated only by a few Afghan mountain ranges. Back home they train together, so while they can’t actually meet up for daily runs, it keeps a little piece of home alive in their relationship.
“At home we run together on the weekends, but during the week we can’t often line up our schedules,” said David, of Delavan, Wis. “On those days if one fits in a workout before the other its pretty good motivation to get out the door to keep up. Here it’s the same thing- if one of us runs that day the other feels guilty!”
U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Brown of Palestine, Texas, just needed a little extra motivation to get out and run.
“That hour in the morning is the best part of my day,” said Brown. “No one is awake and the road is empty; I look forward to that time.”
It’s a varied group you wouldn’t likely find running together in the States. A few days a week however, they have a common bond-eating up the pavement around Bagram Air Field.
Each is looking forward to running their favorite route back home or at least getting the freedom to choose running something new. Each may be running for their own reason, but they are all here in Afghanistan for the same reason; they believe in what they do and who they are fighting for. But at the end of the day, some are still just running for the T-shirt.