Marathons pay tribute, boost morale, and more
April 30, 2013
FORWARD OPERATING BASE FENTY, Afghanistan - It's hot, the sun's not even up yet and it's the weekend.
Given a choice, most people would still be in bed with the air conditioning on.
And then there are those few, those crazy few, who do otherwise in a grand fashion.
Running marathons and half marathons in a combat theater isn't a new phenomenon. The challenge may be unconventional given time or space constraints, but marathons appear on the calendar with predictable regularity.
For instance, two posts on the outskirts of Jalalabad in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, each hosted a marathon over the April 27-28 weekend.
On April 27, Forward Operating Base Fenty boasted a 7-lap full marathon asphalt course that skirted the landing strip, with half-marathoners running half that.
On April 28, FOB Finley-Shields's half-marathon required participants to make 22 laps around the much smaller post, the track varying from plum-sized gravel to asphalt as dusty as at Fenty.
But why? Why run 13.1, or 26.2 miles in a hot, arid environment at five o'clock in the morning? Therein lies the rub.
The Music City Marathon at FOB Fenty was set-up by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Rebecca Stratford, medical operations officer-in-charge, 426th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, of King George, Va., for two main reasons.
Stratford said she'd heard of other units hosting marathons on deployment, and she wanted to set one up during her deployment as a change of pace to help boost unit morale.
"Everybody loves to get out and do something a little bit different," Stratford said. "It kind of takes away the stress of the day."
It's not just about raising morale here in Afghanistan, though.
Several of the runners at Fenty wore tributes to the victims of the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, whether inscribed on their racing tags, or, as in the case of U.S. Army Sgt. Terry Antee, a Soldier with the Task Force Long Knife, and a native of Wichita Falls, Texas, on a prominent yellow armband.
Antee said he is a member of a racing group in the States, which is currently doing a fundraiser for Boston Marathon victims. Their symbol is a yellow armband that says, "We run for Boston."
"That's why I'm actually wearing this one here today: to help raise money for the people of Boston," Antee said.
The half-marathon at Finley-Shields was a memorial.
Originally planned as an April Fool's Day run, the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Cable, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, who was killed in action, March 27, near Jalalabad, prompted the command to make a change.
The Sgt. Cable Running of the Bulldogs Memorial half-marathon attracted participants who wouldn't normally run because it was more than a morale booster, said U.S. Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Slamkowski, integration detachment platoon leader, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Inf. Reg., 101st Airborne Div., of Colorado Springs, Colo.
"This one took on an even greater meaning in that it was the memorial run for our fallen Sgt. Cable," Slamkowski said. "I think it motivated a lot of people to get out here and do it, people that normally wouldn't even run maybe five or ten miles."
Some Soldiers, such as U.S. Army Spc. Cesar Garcia, radio transmitter operator, HHB, 327th Inf. Reg., of Watertown, N.Y., carried a loaded rucksack for the entirety of the 13-mile run.
Garcia said he carried this burden, which weighed more than 60 pounds, to prove to himself that he could do it, but moreover, to honor his fallen comrade.
"I did it just because Sgt. Cable was a great guy," Garcia said.
Whether a participant finished the rough course first (as Slamkowski did), or last (as Garcia did with his heavy pack), each one paid tribute to a fallen brother.
Slamkowski said, "It was a great event to honor Sgt. Cable with our pain out here."
The success of both runs boosted morale, offered support to folks back home and remembered those taken along the way.