A team of more than 30 active-duty servicemembers from installations throughout Virginia set out on a 230-mile journey, starting at Fort Story, Va. on May 2 and ending at Arlington National Cemetery on Sunday afternoon, as part of Honor and Remember, Incorporated's "Run For The Fallen." The run honors every Virginia servicemember who died serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn or Operation Enduring Freedom.
Each mile of the route was dedicated to an individual servicemember and his or her Family. Each hero marker included a biographical description of the servicemember along with American and Honor and Remember flags.
One servicemember whose memory was honored during the run is Staff Sgt. Leroy Alexander, 7th Special Forces Group, Fort Bragg, N.C. Leroy Alexander was killed June 3, 2005 in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device exploded near his vehicle.
Leroy's wife, Marissa, their son, Avery, and daughter, Alaya, and his sister-in-law, Milinda Jefferson, represented him during the run.
"I appreciate it very much because it's showing we haven't been forgotten," said Leroy Alexander's mother, Felecia. "You miss people and want everyone to feel what you feel."
A portion of Saturday's run went down Spriggs Road in Dale City, Va., passing where Leroy went to High School.
Jefferson is excited her niece and nephew got an opportunity to honor their father.
"The kids were excited to lead the crowd into the mile that is designated for their dad," said Jefferson. "It's almost like a homecoming."
The Run For The Fallen isn't the only thing that has helped Jefferson and the Alexander Family deal with Leroy's death.
The Fort Belvoir Army Community Service, Survivor Outreach Services program helped Leroy's Family deal with their grief and gave his children opportunities to meet other military children who have lost a parent during the war.
"I found out about the S.O.S. program because Marissa and Milinda told me about it," said Felecia. "I was interested in what they could offer, so I made an appointment. I went for financial assistance and the coordinator at the time made me a nice spreadsheet to help me get my finances in order."
Knowing that the S.O.S. program reaches out to surviving Family members and lets Families know they have people in their corner is comforting for Felecia.
"As a parent that lost a child, when you lose a loved one you'll never forget them," said Felecia. "But, it makes you feel like you're not alone when you have other people that say they won't forget you."
The genuine care shown by the S.O.S. program is comforting for Jefferson, too.
"In the beginning, the whole community is like, 'We'll cut your grass, we'll paint and help get baby food,'" said Jefferson. "But, as time goes by you're like, 'Where's the help?'"
Felecia and Jefferson still remember the day they learned Leroy lost his life doing what he had always wanted to do.
Leroy always wanted to serve in the military. He used to tell his father, Ronald E. Alexander, a former Marine, that he wanted to be "just like his dad."
In October 2002, Leroy Alexander began more than two years of intensive training to become a Special Forces engineer sergeant. He was assigned to the 7th Special Forces Group in June 2004 and deployed to Afghanistan shortly thereafter.
The morning of June 3, 2005, Felecia received an odd gesture from a coworker that was a prelude to the news she would receive that night.
"I used to write in a journal about what God said to me while I was reading the Bible in the morning and I would take it to work and let people read it if they wanted to," said Felicia Alexander. "I worked with a lady who enjoyed reading my journal entries. When I took a different position, we no longer worked together and she would tell me when she saw me that she missed my journal."
"That Friday, she came to my office with a solemn look on her face and threw a journal on my desk and said, 'Start writing,'" said Felecia Alexander.
Alexander didn't understand why her coworker had been so rude, but wrote in the journal anyway.
"I wrote, don't quit in the journal," said Felecia. "Now, I realize that was God preparing me for Lee's death."
A phone call from Marissa at 7:30 p.m. the night of June 3, 2005, shared the tragic news. Marissa was pregnant with Avery and Alaya at the time of their Father's passing.
"I couldn't understand at first why the Lord took my son at this stage in his life when his wife was pregnant with twins," said Felecia Alexander.
That same day Jefferson was preparing to meet friends in Old Towne, Alexandria that afternoon for her belated birthday celebration, which is May 30.
Jefferson was at Rocket Grill when she realized she left her camera in her car. While she was walking to her car, she received a phone call from her father.
"My dad told me I need to come home, but I was stubborn because I had seen my parents before I came to my party," said Jefferson. "Finally, he just said it, 'Leroy is dead.' It was like time stood still."
Immediately, Jefferson's thoughts went to her sister and that her niece and nephew would never know their father.
"All I kept thinking is 'my sister is pregnant,'" said Jefferson. "They had lost two babies before, and she got pregnant six months prior to his death."
The first few years after Leroy's death were like a dream, according to Felecia. She couldn't believe her oldest son was no longer alive.
"It's like, 'OK, I'm going to wake up and he's going to knock on the door,'" said Felecia. "As the years go on you realize it's not a dream, that it actually is reality."
Felicia felt like her prayers to bring her son home safe had not been answered. But, regardless of her feelings, she still had two newborn grandchildren to look after since Marissa was still on active-duty.
Marissa moved to the area after Avery and Alaya were born. Since Leroy's brother, Reggie Alexander, was not working at the time, Felecia told Marissa she could leave the twins with Reggie during the day.
Felecia said she did not cry in front of Reggie in the aftermath of Leroy's death because she did not want him to worry about her. She would cry on her way to and from work.
"As soon as I would get out my car and see those children standing on the front stoop saying, 'Grandma's home, grandma's home' it was like all the life that was taken out of me when Leroy died was breathed back into me," said Felecia. "God used those children for a whole year to keep me alive."
Finally, after several years passed, Felecia decided it was time to find out what the S.O.S. program offers.
"It was probably about two years after Leroy's passing that I contacted S.O.S.," said Felecia. "The information was always there, it's just I wasn't ready for it."
The program has provided many things to Felecia and her Family. Not only did she receive financial management assistance, but she also got to attend a Washington Nationals game last year with Jefferson and her grand children.
Felecia had never been to a professional baseball game before.
"I wanted that experience and I got it through S.O.S.," she said.
S.O.S. has helped Avery and Alaya not feel awkward about not having their father, according to Jefferson.
"We've met other Gold Star Families through S.O.S. Family activities that we didn't realize live down the street from us," said Jefferson. "My niece and nephew don't feel weird when they are at school and they have parent day and see classmates with two parents. They don't have to explain why they don't have two parents."
The genuine care Felecia Alexander has received from the S.O.S. program lifted her spirits, she said, because she knows she is part of a group that wants to help her when she needs assistance.
However, Felecia would like to return the favor sometime in the future.
"I want to be able to offer my experience to another person in the S.O.S. program," said Alexander. "Who's better to say I understand than someone who's been through it and is still going through it?"