CAMP TAJI, IRAQ
CAMP TAJI — One after another they ran through the wet and slippery streets, their bodies caked in drying mud, foraging ahead to the finish line at their own speed.
It might have been easier to stay clean and dry, but this run was for fallen comrades who gave their lives defending the United States — a little mud would not stop them.
Service members from all military branches came together for the Fallen Soldier Half-Marathon, Feb. 27, to pay tribute to those who died in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, despite the constant rain.
The marathon was the idea of Master Sgt. Jovana Meyer, from Belton, Texas, S-3 non-commissioned officer in charge, 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division—Center, who said she wanted to commemorate those lives lost before she left Iraq.
"It's a good way to honor and remember the fallen Soldiers that became heroes here since 2003 ... who gave their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice," Meyer said.
The idea first came to her while on rear detachment during 1st ACB's previous deployment, which lasted from 2006 to 2008, said Meyer.
"When I was rear [detachment] for 15 months at Fort Hood, I ended up being the casualty assistance officer for three widows and casualty notification officer for two others," Meyer said. "I know what the widows, the parents, and their kids go through."
The run is Meyer's way of letting the bereaved families know that their fallen Soldiers aren't forgotten.
"The families in the back tend to think we forget and move on — but we never forget," she said. "By coordinating this event for the fallen Soldiers, it allows them to remember, 'Hey, they haven't forgotten about my son or daughter, or my husband and wife.'"
Meyer said she has lost friends in Iraq, which makes it personal for her, making the run a good way to exit Iraq as the tour continues to draw down.
"It's a way for all the services to unite as one; Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force and civilians. Let's all unite to remember, reflect and honor the fallen Soldier ... the fallen hero," Meyer said.
The maximum number of registered participants, 400, took part, Meyer said, with weather issues not affecting the marathon.
During his speech before the run, Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, from Newport News, Va., deputy commander, 1st Armored Division, USD-C, said the run means something to all those who have lost a friend in combat.
"This is personal for so many of us ... it's personal to me because on October 19, 2001, during the first combat action of the war on terror in Northern Pakistan, two Army
Rangers died in one of my aircraft," Mangum said. "The thousands who have given their lives since is certainly something we will never, ever forget.
"That's our vow and our commitment," he said.
Mangum said all the military runners volunteered to serve, making any adverse weather conditions an easy barrier to overcome.
"For many of you, your decision to run today is very courageous. With each and every step, never forget those fallen Soldiers," Mangum said. "The track may have been made harder with the rain, but I know everyone will finish."
"Whether you're running to win or running to finish, this is a noble pursuit," he said.
Meyer said she hoped to continue the event in the States and make it a tradition.
"I hope I can take this back to America because there's no other race out there that is held for the fallen Soldier," Meyer said. "Maybe in 10 years, we could do it for every fallen Soldier in America from every war."
The response from fellow Soldiers has been positive for Meyer, which is a great reward for all her hard work.
"It's been overwhelming walking around Camp Taji and having people coming up to me, seeing my name and saying, 'Thank you so much. I'm going to run for my friend or my brother,'" she said. "It's definitely a proper exit for those of us preparing to leave here."
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This work, Half-marathon honors fallen warriors, by Alun Thomas, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.