CAMP ADDER, Iraq — When Lt. Col. Jeff Mark ran the 27th annual Hood to Coast Relay last year with team 360 Goes 180, he said he did not know it could be the beginning of a tradition that highlights the sacrifices of the young men and women from the National Guard and armed forces Reserves.
Mark ran the race in Iraq and communicated with his team via satellite phone to determine when to get the relay hand offs from his teammates. He said he thought it would be a great way to have a personal connection with home while doing something that did not distract from combat duties.
The race is the largest in the world, stretching 197 miles from Mount Hood to the Oregon coast with 12,000 runners and 3,500 volunteers. The relay teams are comprised of 12 members running three legs each, two four-mile legs and a seven mile leg.
This year, the event helped inspire more than 62 Soldiers from the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Oregon National Guard to simulate running the race Aug. 29 in multiple locations across Iraq, Colorado and Oregon.
Mark is once again a member of the Hood to Coast Relay team, 360 Goes 180, joined by Maj. Christopher Reese from Albany, Ore., who is the official team member running in Iraq this year.
The team's name came about when a company called 360 Physical Therapy offered Mark a spot on their team. Mark suggested the name 360 Goes 180 because he would be running from halfway around the world.
Celia Perkins, a coach at Portland Fit, is a sponsor and supporter of the team and explained how the original vision for the team came about.
"While attending the Road Runners Club of America convention in New Orleans in 2005, I met Jeff Mark," Perkins said. "I shared my passion of the Hood to Coast Relay ... I hooked him up with a running team in 2007, and he had an awesome time. The team was a perfect fit and it became a bonding experience for him. He knew he wanted to join a team again in 2008, but was deployed to Iraq. Jeff shared his vision of 'running virtually,' and I went to work finding a team."
It was the owner of 360 Physical Therapy, Ike Anunciado, who picked Mark up on his team. He said he is proud to be supporting service members. He said Reese is a perfect fit for this year's team.
"The reason I am so passionate about our mission and team this year is because I have a close affinity to those who serve in America's armed forces," Anunciado said. "My father served in the U.S. Navy for 22 years and is a Vietnam veteran. Though I did not serve, I feel it my duty to show my support for those who are serving, to honor my father, and to never let what happened to him when he returned from Vietnam happen to another U.S. Soldier or Sailor again. That's the reason I am so willing to support Chris' participation in this year's relay."
This year Reese helped organize the more than 62 Soldiers who are inspired to run the race in the extreme heat of Iraq.
"This race has once again shown me that Oregonians are not only mentally and physically capable to tackle any task, anywhere, anytime, but that Soldiers do this business for mainly one reason, because they don't want to let the guy or girl on their left and right down," Reese said. "I love being part of that and I love being an American Soldier."
The Soldiers gathered for their first four-mile leg at 4:30 a.m., ran the second four-mile leg in 120 degree heat, and the final seven-mile leg in the middle of the night.
First Sgt. Michael Wentworth from Seaside, Ore., who ran Hood to Coast Relay in Iraq at age 54, said this is a great way for Soldiers to build camaraderie. He said physical fitness has to be a priority. "You just can't handle the environmental stresses unless you have some sort of physical fitness," he said.
Staff Sgt. Cassandra Krawec-Paul of Lafayette, Ore., mentioned that "Everyone showed a lot of determination ... It is a big morale booster to know people back home are supporting us."
Staff Sgt. Nathan Bodle from Sandy, Ore., said he always wanted to do the Hood to Coast Relay and has not had the opportunity to get on a team.
"I saw the opportunity and I took it," said Bodle.
Lt. Col. Steve Beach from Newberg, Ore., who has run 14 Hood to Coast Relay races, said even at night in Iraq, it is still hotter than he likes it to be when he runs. "We did this to show we can do it, and it makes it a lot better when you have other Soldiers with you working as a team," Beach said.
Although Mark did not know he was creating a tradition when he ran the relay last year, he said he is proud of the Soldiers who ran this year. He said he will continue to dedicate himself to making the event a tradition as long as service members are deployed.
Mark said he thinks the sponsor and volunteer support combined with the spirit of the service members will keep the Hood to Coast Relay tradition going.
This work, Soldiers go 180 Degrees Around the World for Hood to Coast Relay, by SGT Cory Grogan, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.