MARINA, Calif. -- The Monterey Peninsula is home to a new racing event with a cause that is close to the heart for many local military community members, honoring service members who lost their lives while serving in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

An estimated crowd of 500 runners and spectators were on hand at Fort Ord Dunes State Park for the first Run for the Fallen Fort Ord 10K Nov. 2. The race was the first major event to be held at the state park in Marina since it was established in 2009 on land once part of the now closed Fort Ord Army post.

The idea for the run, and driving force behind its organization, was Margot Stengel who's son died in a non-combat related incident in Afghanistan in December 2010. Proceeds from the race will be donated to local organizations dedicated to honoring the memory of local veterans or assisting men and women returning from war.

The course ran parallel to the Pacific Ocean shoreline, with stunning views of the Monterey Bay. Memorials marked every half-mile, one for each of the 13 service members from Monterey County who have lost their lives serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Crossing the finish line first was Lt. Cmdr. Austin Jackson, a Navy SEAL who is working on his Master's Degree at the nearby Naval Postgraduate School. Jackson, who recently competed in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, held in October, said that it was the Fort Ord race that meant something special to him.

"It is such a great cause. I have lost a lot of close friends, and I think taking time out to recognize our fallen is something important," Jackson said. "It is great to see the support and get to know some of the families out here that have given their sons and daughters. I just hope they are in a better place."

Stengel walked the course with family and friends by her side and seemed solemn but upbeat after crossing the finish line.

"I'm very excited and exhilarated that so many people came out to support our fallen and the families and support the military; it's very heartwarming. We have introduced the people to a beautiful park and a chance to honor our fallen. I had no idea I could do this. This is a serious accomplishment, and I know that my son would be proud of me," Stengel said after the race. "He got back in the service at 41 years old after being out since he was 29, and I kept thinking about that when I was ready to quit and didn't know what I was doing.

"I have been the most surprised out of all of us; before this I had not organized so much as a Tupperware party," Stengel added. "The last couple of years I have been in my own recluse and not sure how I was going to react to life again, and thought that maybe by giving I could feel stronger and have a life again, and live and love and laugh -- that's what it is all about, why we're here. It was worth the sweat and the tears, many tears, to get to this point."

Spc. Daniel del Arroyo was one of about 50 volunteers from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center who were on hand to assist in making sure the race went smoothly from start to finish. Del Arroyo said he was involved in the assembly and dismantling of the main stage and moving it during the race from the starting point to finish line.

"I love to volunteer at events and spend free time away from the studying, I think it is an important part of being in the military," del Arroyo said. "This event has been great, there are so many people here representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Just seeing everyone out here together is great."

Besides the volunteers, service members also comprised a large number of the participating runners, including Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center Commandant Col. Danial Pick and Presidio of Monterey Garrison Commander Col. Paul Fellinger.

"The [local military community] has been such a big support. Because of their volunteers and support I have felt stronger," Stengel said.

Stengel noted that the race is to be an annual event and preparation for next year's race will begin in about a month.

"It will get bigger and better," Stengel said. "Next year we will have an enormous post-party; barbeque, live music, dancing and jump houses. It is going to be cool."

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