Community runs in tribute to the fallen
August 25, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- More than 1,000 participants came out to race in memory of service members for Fort Jackson's first Run for the Fallen Saturday morning at the Hilton Softball Complex.
Army Community Services worked with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation to plan the race.
"We're participating this year because we have so many different branches in this state that there's no reason why we shouldn't do this," said Leslie Smith of ACS Survivor Outreach Services. "The Soldier Support Institute volunteered to run in honor of our 245 South Carolina-based fallen (service members) and other people have registered to run for people they have lost and would like to remember. This amazing response lets us know that so many still have a need to do something in remembrance of their loved ones."
John Bellona started the first on Run for the Fallen began in 2008 on Flag Day as a way to honor his best friend and thousands of others who were killed in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. At that time, the country had lost 4,000 service members so Bellona and his team ran from Fort Irwin, Ca., to Arlington National Cemetery, Va., and placed a flag in honor of each fallen service member at every mile. The run has caught on in nearly 20 states from Georgia to New Jersey and Nevada. This year, Fort Jackson became the first in South Carolina to host the Run for the Fallen.
One of the race's senior citizen participants, Toni Stack, walked in honor of her son, Sgt. Maj. Michael Stack.
"When I lost Michael, I had such a terrible time dealing with it. It is still so hard for me to go on without him," Stack said. "I took to walking and I walk at least three miles every day to a tree in the park our city planted for Michael. I'll sit out there and pray and spend time with him and it has been helping me."
Stack said that she enjoyed the uplifting atmosphere of the Run for the Fallen and plans to encourage the whole family to participate in the future.
"This has just done amazing things for my spirit. I've even met some people who worked with Michael out here," Stack said. "Next year we want to bring the whole family out, this is just a wonderful thing they are doing out here."
Others walked in honor of those who were not family, but were felt just as close.
"I'm going to walk for Sgt. Elijah Rao," said Leah Dynes, an Army spouse who lives on Fort Jackson. "His wife is a close friend of mine and we used to spend holidays together back in Colorado. We were all pretty close, he used to watch all of the kids and get really involved. Our daughters are the same age."
Dynes said she is participating because people don't seem to remember the fallen service members until they are personally touched by the tragedy.
"Even as a military family, it's not something that you can think about because you would be so devastated by it," Dynes said. "After my friend called to tell me about losing him, I just ran and hugged my husband who had gotten home a few months earlier because I knew that it could've been me in her shoes."
The Survivor Outreach Services and race coordinators wanted to make sure the run was not a solemn occasion.
"There will be no ceremony because we didn't want it to go that way, just an awareness of us having these people in our hearts," Smith said. "Soldiers have bibs on them during the run that show the name of the fallen soldier they are running in honor of. We were trying to give a special touch so that later on, the Soldier can look back and really remember (who) they ran in honor of."
Organizers are already making plans for hosting Run for the Fallen again.
"When we were preparing this year, we just didn't know how many people were interested," Smith said. "Now with this great response, we can really look forward to doing this in the future and seeing how we can make it better for everyone."