<b>BAGHDAD —</b> A warm breeze blows across the concrete basketball court on Forward Operating Base Union III as a small crowd begins to form in the pre-dawn hours. Accompanied by a few, very rare, falling rain drops, the number of people clad in assorted physical fitness attire steadily increases.
Normally this very same scene plays out early each October in the Pentagon parking lot, as thousands of runners turn out to participate in the annual Army Ten-Miler.
While Union III is more than 6,200 miles east of Washington these runners, who number far less than the 30,000 participating in this year's Army Ten-Miler, remain undaunted as they gather to participate in the FOB's "Army Ten-Miler Shadow Run."
In late September officials with the IZ (International Zone) Support Element here started planning a run to "allow us a moment to feel like we're a part of our brothers and sisters back home," said Tech. Sgt. Melissa M. Gallaher, who's been in the Air Force for 13 years, and is one of the key IZ Support Element's run planners.
When officials began planning the event, the contacted the Association United States Army - the organization that hosts the event - and they officially classified the event as their "Baghdad Sister Event," said Gallaher, who's nearing the end of her six-month deployment from Kessler Air Force Base, Miss. The Army Ten-Miler folks even assisted by providing plaques for the top-three male and female finishers, as well as T-shirts for run participants.
While runners in Washington traverse a 10-mile course that winds along smoothly-paved roads through the monuments and brilliant scenery of our nation's capital, due to the restrictions posed by a relatively small FOB in a forward-deployed location the course here was quite different.
The race course here spanned only 4.8 miles, and required runners to navigate an intricate series of laps. Runners here had to negotiate traffic-calming obstacles and gravel over more than half the route, while "T-Walls" and guard towers served as scenery.
Gallaher, along with former IZ Support Element Commandant Lt. Col. Clyde M. Buckley, ran the route as part of the planning process for a two-fold purpose - to ensure it was safe and certify the course's distance.
Pulling all the elements together for an event such as this can have many challenges. For example, in Washington, representatives with AUSA, will begin planning next year's race the day after this year's is completed. But with the right set of skills and support of talented people anything can be accomplished.
"Planning the run was difficult with limited resources in a deployed location," said Gallaher, a native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., who works as the executive assistant to the 2nd Air Force Command Chief at her home station. "It wasn't problematic, just challenging."
After all, despite the obvious difference in the two runs, both pretty much require the same type of support - medical personnel, water points and traffic control.
For the service members who live and work on FOB Union III, the run provided an opportunity to get out and do something different. Most rely on the physical fitness center and its variety of exercise equipment to meet their daily physical training needs.
"I run on a treadmill all the time, and thought that it would be an easy run," said U.S. Marine Cpl. Jeffrey A. Pichardo, a 21-year-old Bronx, N.Y., native who works as a mail clerk here. "It was more challenging that I expected."
When Pichardo learned of the run, he said he was anxious to get out and participate.
"I worked a water point for a previous run here and this time I wanted to participate," said Pichardo, who is nearing the end of a six-month deployment from his home station of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"It was fun, and it builds cohesion," Pichardo said. "Although you're exhausted at the end, it's fun."
While each of the more than 70 participants in the event had their own reasons for running, they all had an opportunity to get out of the gym and start the day off with a little camaraderie.
"I enjoyed pulling it together, and everybody was eager to help," Gallaher said. "It's not often you get to put aside work to do something fun, so you jump on the chance."
<b>Editor's note:</b><i> Hall is civilian employee with the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs on temporary duty with the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.</i>