News: Pressing on with purpose: Marine firefighters hike Honolulu Marathon for second year, raise money for wounded warriors
Story by Cpl. Reece Lodder
HONOLULU — Under the auburn glow of Honolulu streetlights, eight Marines in boots and camouflage trousers donned packs chock-full of fluids, food and 65 pounds of gear, yet still swiftly moved to the Honolulu Marathon’s starting line.
Though the clock hadn’t yet struck 5 a.m., Dec. 12, the already sticky, humid air felt more appropriate for a July 4th picnic than an early December morning.
Sharply contrasting the bright, buzzing collage of more than 22,000 competitors, the Marine firefighters from Aircraft Rescue Firefighting, Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, stood proudly in front of them, unified in appearance and purpose. Their motivation, however, was different than most. They were there to hike the 26.3-mile marathon to raise money for wounded warriors.
Queued by the national anthem blaring over loudspeakers, the geared-up Marines snapped to the position of attention. Silence swept over the crowd, but not for long. As the anthem faded out, competitors resumed their dull roar, talking excitedly, and fidgeting in eager anticipation of the marathon’s start. Behind the Marines, a man stood and proudly waved two small American flags.
Seemingly an eternity passed before a marathon official began the final countdown. As “one” drifted off into the muggy darkness, the Marines were the first to cross the starting line. Fireworks erupted and lit up their route while they sprinted the marathon’s first 100 meters down Ala Moana Boulevard.
“At first, people looked at us like we were crazy,” said Chicago native Sgt. Fernando Camacho, a firefighter with ARFF. “But when they realized why were hiking — to help out those who couldn’t because of the pain they had endured — the looks on their faces changed. That made it well worth it.”
Moving through Honolulu toward Chinatown, the Marines began yelling out among the throng of competitors, advocating for their cause and collecting donations in a Kevlar helmet. Fellow competitors cheered them on, and former and current service members showed their support with the boisterous shouts of their respective branches.
A former Army airborne soldier and Korean War veteran stared dumbfounded at the Marines’ packs, saying, “I know you’re Marines because you’re the only ones who would be out here hiking with all that weight.”
Slowing to shake the Marines’ hands as he passed, the veteran humbly said, “You’re real men, Marines.”
The sun kissed the group as they hiked past Waikiki Beach around 7 a.m., and they stopped to replenish their energy with food and fluids, and change their dank boot socks. Whether the Marines were stationary or moving, they received moral support and donations. During the marathon alone, they raised over $400 from competitors and spectators alike.
Cpl. Ryan Guinty, a firefighter with ARFF, said pressing on through the long course was challenging, but the purpose behind the pain drove him onward.
“Our wounded Marines and sailors have done so much for us,” said Guinty, of Burleson, Texas. “They lost something I am fortunate to still have, so I kept on going.”
Approaching the marathon’s halfway point shortly after 10 a.m., the Marines spotted a fellow competitor who was in need. Weak and dehydrated, she had stopped to rest in the shade on the side of the road.
Sgt. Robert Hernandez, a black belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor with the School of Infantry West — Detachment Hawaii, and combat lifesaver-trained infantryman, had joined the ARFF Marines on the hike. Together with Camacho, he took a knee next to the woman and provided her aid. They poured cool water on her shoulders, removed her shoes and gave her fluids to rehydrate, staying with her until her friends arrived.
This deeply embedded care and concern for others brought the Marines to hike for their wounded brothers- and sisters-in-arms, but competitors weren’t the only ones who noticed.
Lt. Col. Gregory Price, officer in charge, Wounded Warrior Battalion West — Detachment Hawaii, said the ARFF Marines’ hiking the marathon was “a testament to their loyalty and esprit de Corps — that they stuck with it last year, and continued again this year.”
“It helps our wounded warriors’ motivation and morale to know their fellow Marines are willing to endure hours of pain for them,” said Price, of Carlsbad, Calif.
Between muscle cramps, blistered feet, and backs and shoulders rubbed raw by their packs, each of the Marines felt the pain of hiking 26.3 miles while weighed down by gear. During miles 16 and 17, this pain found them all as they made a loop around Hawaii Kai, said Sgt. Brandon Cox, a firefighter with ARFF, from Franklin, Ind.
Cpl. Brice Kuehn, a firefighter with ARFF, said the last stretch was the most challenging.
“The last three miles were the worst and the best,” said Kuehn, from Fife, Wash. “We were so close to the finish line, but it hurt so bad.”
Nonetheless, pride and resolve to finish drove them closer to the finish line, one step at a time.
“Bringing the wounded warriors the donation we worked hard for will be a good feeling,” Cox said. “Raising the money and handing it off to them will be our reward.”
The money the group has raised, in its entirety, will be given to support wounded Marines and sailors at Wounded Warrior Battalion West — Detachment Hawaii, on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
“We rely heavily on non-government support to help our wounded warriors and their families during their recovery and rehabilitation,” Price said. “There are already significant amounts of stresses in their lives, and this money will be used to minimize these stresses.”
The funds will mainly be used for family support, such as childcare emergencies due to doctor’s appointments, or purchasing plane tickets to reunite wounded warriors and their families, Price said.
Through the end of December, donations can be directly deposited into a non-profit savings account entitled “Wounded Warrior Fund” at any Windward Community Federal Credit Union on Oahu — including the branch next to the commissary here. Funds may also be dropped off at ARFF, Building 1168, near the flight line.
“In the end, the wounded warriors were who we were there for,” Camacho said. “Ultimately, our goal was to raise money for the wounded Marines and sailors, but it didn’t matter how much we did or didn’t raise — it was that we were there supporting them.”
This work, Pressing on with purpose: Marine firefighters hike Honolulu Marathon for second year, raise money for wounded warriors, by Sgt Reece Lodder, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.