News: Tennessee Guardsmen Run the Country Music Marathon in Iraq
Story by 1st Lt. Desiree Pavlick
CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION Q-WEST, Iraq — Soldiers of 1st Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment of the Tennessee Army National Guard, with the 13th Sustainment Brigade (Expeditionary), laced up and hit the roads to do a "shadow run" of the Country Music Marathon on Saturday, April 24 at COL Q-West, a base in Northern Iraq.
Roughly 250 Soldiers participated in the run, with about 200 running and 50 "ruck" marching the 13.1 mile half-marathon. Due to heat and time constraints, Soldiers were not allowed to run the full marathon.
The "ruck" marchers wore their combat packs, wearing or carrying an additional 35 to 80 pounds of combat gear. Most of the marchers wore their Army Combat Uniforms and boots. "Ruck" marching is a timeless Army tradition used to travel long distances, with full-gear in short periods of time.
For the Tennessee Soldiers, the run was an opportunity to stay connected to home, as many of them have family and loved ones running at the main location in Nashville, Tenn. The weather in Iraq turned out to be much more cooperative than in Nashville, with sunny skies and highs in the low 80s; making for a beautiful race day.
Col. Jeffrey H. Holmes, regimental commander of 278th ACR and from middle Tennessee, knew that the run would be a big morale boost for his Soldiers and gave the go-ahead early in the deployment for his staff to start planning for the run.
"I am very fond of the [Country Music Marathon] because it was the first half-marathon I participated in and I have many family and friends who run it every year," said Holmes. "I appreciated seeing the marathon promoted around our bases in Iraq, giving us all a little reminder of home. I want to thank all of those involved in sponsoring the marathon for allowing our soldiers to participate. While we're running here in the sand and dust we'll be thinking of the much nicer conditions back in Nashville. These gestures in reaching out to our soldiers will never be taken for granted."
There were three major winners for the run. Spc. Tyler Fonseca, a 15th Sustainment Brigade Soldier, from Killeen, Tx., finished the course in 1 hour, 25 minutes, winning the men's division. 1st Lt. DesiRee Nicely, 1st Squadron, 278th ACR, from Garden City, La., finished the race 1 hour, 57 minutes, winning the race for the women. Staff Sgt. Dustin E. Dunn of Hendersonville, Tenn., a platoon sergeant in C Troop, 1st Squadron, 278th ACR, was the first of the ruck marchers to cross the finish line and completed the course in 3 hours, 10 minutes.
Capt. Gregory W. Smith of Nolensville, Tenn., commander of B Troop, 1st Squadron, 278th ACR, headquartered in Clarksville, Tenn., ran the half-marathon to be "closer" to his wife.
"My wife Jaclyn and I ran the Music City Half-Marathon together in April 2006 after my last deployment…[but] have not ran the race since then. This year we are [training and] running the race [together] again, only from separate locations," said Smith. "Running the race together allows us to stay involved in each other's daily life as best we can from thousands of miles away. I look forward to next year when we can run side by side."
Many of 278th ACR's Soldiers have run the Country Music Marathon previously, and jumped at the chance to do it on the other side of the globe.
"I ran the Country Music Half-Marathon last year. It was the first time I had ever run 13.1 miles at one time," said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Haynes of Springfield, Tenn., platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon, C Troop, 1st Squadron, 278th ACR, headquartered in Milan, Tenn. "It felt great to finish the run, and I told myself I would run [it again] after this deployment. I'm excited that I didn't have to skip a year."
This race also had its fair share of first time runners. Staff Sgt. Dustin E. Dunn, who had the best time for the ruck marchers, was able to "run" the half-marathon from Iraq, while his girlfriend Denise ran the same marathon at home in Nashville.
Yet another Soldier ran today for the companionship of friends and co-workers. 1st Lt. Duane Harvey of Spring Hill, Tenn., and the executive officer for B Troop, 1st Squadron, 278th ACR, works for Nissan North America, headquartered in Franklin, Tenn. Nissan is a major sponsor of the race, and more than 200 Nissan employees from Middle Tennessee are running the marathon in Nashville.
"Several of my friends will be participating," said Harvey. "Pete Luttenbacher, a hunting buddy and co-worker who has taken most of my job over, along with his own, when I've left for military duty, will be running. Allan Smith, a Fraternity Brother in Lambda Chi Alpha, will be running this race as his first half-marathon. Today was my first half-marathon, as well."
Many Soldiers ran in their first half-marathon this Saturday, while others ruck marched the distance. Despite being worlds apart, Tennesseans across the globe were able to unite for this event. Some ran for the sheer enjoyment of running, while for others this was a chance to do something together with their family and friends back home.