LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Paratroopers, soldiers, coalition partners, and civilians met on a cold morning Nov. 8, 2012 to conduct the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team’s annual “Running of the Herd” at Forward Operating Base Shank, in Logar Province, Afghanistan. This marked the 6th time that the 173rd conducted this event. The 8th of November refers to the brigade’s actions during Operation Hump in Vietnam that left 48 Americans dead after being ambushed by Viet Cong fighters.
In 2007, the 173d Brigade Support Battalion’s medical company, Charlie Company, received a video from 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team veterans explaining the ultimate sacrifice of 48 paratroopers killed in the Vietnam War on November 8, 1965, when they were ambushed by more than 1,200 Viet Cong. Since the Vietnam War and until the present, the 173D ABCT has lost more than 1,800 Sky Soldiers.
For the past six years, C Company, 173rd Brigade Support Battalion, has continued to host the event and every year the Sky Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team have honored their fallen with a 24-hour relay run beginning on the 8th of November.
This year, in addition to holding the run in Bamberg, ‘The Running of the Herd’ was also held at two bases in Afghanistan: FOB Shank and FOB Airborne. U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Adam Obregon and 2nd Lt. Allison Erickson planned and conducted the events in Bamberg, Germany and FOB Shank, Afghanistan, respectively. More than 400 runners across Logar and Wardak Provinces in Afghanistan made time to participate in the run while deployed.
FOB Shank, Afghanistan
In Logar Province, FOB Shank sits surrounded on all sides by mountains and on the morning of the 6th Annual Running of the Herd, a cloud of tan dust flew into the cold, dry air as the swiftly-pounding feet of airborne paratroopers took off, running toward the rising sun for their first lap of the day-long relay.
Twenty-five teams of seven men and women took turns running five-mile laps. Some competed for time and some simply ran to remember and honor our fallen comrades.
“Everyone had good spirits and I think it was a good event all around,” said U.S. Army Capt. Tranessia Murphy, a nurse with 173rd BSB.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Drew Caplin’s team, seven soldiers from Anvil Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd ABCT, placed first in the team competition. For Caplin, this was his second year on the winning team.
“Just like last year, crossing the line with the cav guidon in hand felt great,” Caplin said. “It really brings the truth to the Army and a surreal feeling that is unmatchable.”
“It is the same feeling that you get when you are outside the wire and everyone is doing their job,” he added. “When you take contact and everybody knows what they are supposed to do and you complete the mission successfully and everybody comes back safely.”
USAG Bamberg, Germany
Soldiers at FOB Shank were already miles into the run when Families and non-deployed soldiers lined the cobbled streets of Bamberg, Germany with smiles on their faces as they prepared to start their 24-hour remembrance run. For some, the run not only helped them remember the fallen, but remember the loved ones who were far away from home, deployed to Afghanistan.
“I’m glad they are doing this downrange, because while I’m running, I feel connected to my husband, because he might be running at the same time I am,” one spouse in Bamberg said.
U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Adam Obregon organized the event in Bamberg and provided the FOB Shank team with prizes and t-shirts. Across from the BSB Headquarters, moon bounces, coffee spots and a beer garden tent the size of a large aircraft covered the sports field.
COP Baraki Barak
The event wasn’t just reserved for large bases, as U.S. Army Sgt. Derek Stutz put on the run at significantly-smaller Combat Outpost Baraki Barak with a huge turnout.
“It went amazing, 10 times better than we ever imagined,” he wrote. “We had 25 plus on the course all day, at any given time.”
Markers were placed every 25 feet of the course with the names of those Soldiers who were wounded in combat during this deployment, a symbol that kept those sacrifices fresh in the mind of every runner. Stutz wrote that 140 runners ran a total of 1,211 miles and many individuals ran more than the 26.2 miles of a marathon, all on a course that measured a quarter of a mile.
“It was truly one of the most incredible things I have seen in my military career,” Stutz added.
Even more incredible, Stutz wrote, was the financial support he received from an unnamed athletic company, which made an initial deposit to the Wounded Warrior Project of $40,000 in anticipation of laps run by Stutz and his dedicated runners.
“Well, [that] night I delivered the news to them that with the matching donation to the wives running in Bamberg, we raised $67,500,” he said. “Pretty awesome for a day’s work.”
U.S. Army Captain Manish Rawat and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Derrick Gibson hosted the trying event at FOB Airborne, their location high in the mountains of Afghanistan’s Logar Province.
“I’ll bet this was probably the highest relay race,” Gibson said. “No one else was racing at 7,600 feet.”
FOB Shank was the closest at approximately 7,000 feet above sea level, Baraki Barak at 6,293 feet and Bamberg at nearly 1,000 feet, leaving the runners at FOB Airborne to run the highest race in Running of the Herd history.
At FOB Airborne, 13 teams participated with three prize categories for the fastest lap, most laps and team with the most laps. Each lap was approximately 1.7 miles. Winners were U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Maldonado, U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Nees and Team “JTOC,” respectively.
“Honestly, I think the only thing they didn’t like was that there wasn’t beer,” Gibson said. In the events past, with the exception of the first race in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, beer has been a major factor in getting the festivities of the event rolling in Germany, but that didn’t spoil the event.
“It was a day off, it can be pretty routine here,” he said. “Something to break the monotony.”
Across the USA
Even former members of the 173rd BSB’s Lifeline family of Charlie Company ran in locations across the U.S. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Waterbury made sure he ran his remembrance run in Oregon.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Hamilton, former Charlie Company commander, ran with U.S. Army Sgt. Greenberg in Colorado.
As with last year’s Running of the Herd, this event served as an opportunity for members of the 173rd ABCT to render homage to past and present paratroopers that have paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their nation. While the unit still has time remaining in its deployment to Afghanistan, it will not lose sight of its lineage and looks forward to returning to Italy and Germany in the upcoming months.
Story by 2nd Lt. Allison Erickson