WASHINGTON (Oct. 13, 2014) -- U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Leighton lost his father, Marine Corps Sgt. Raymond E. Leighton, to the Vietnam War when he was only five months old.
Carolyn Horton lost her dad, Army Maj. Robert Horton, when she was a young girl.
Leslie Hufstedler-Alvarez lost her first husband 10 years ago during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
All three survivors dedicated their run in the 2014 Army Ten-Miler to their loved ones through the Army Installation Management Command's Survivor Outreach Services Run to Honor campaign.
More than 400 other runners joined them in the inaugural campaign, dedicating their runs to both living and fallen U.S. service members. In addition to the Run to Honor campaign, Army Survivor Outreach Services coordinated and entered a Surviving Military Families team into this year's race.
Horton, 23, of Haymarket, Virginia, completed her first Army Ten-Miler in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 13 seconds. She had never run 10 miles before, but did so to honor her father, who was a high school track and field stalwart. He died March 21, 1999, at the age of 36 at Fort Lewis, Washington.
"I've done the Marine Corps 10K four or five times before," she said. "My dad was a state champion runner in high school and made all kinds of records. While my time definitely will not compare to his, since physical fitness and running was always something important to my dad, when I heard about running to honor my dad, I started running.
"When I saw that SOS was doing this, then I signed up."
Hufstedler-Alvarez, of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, completed the run in 1:55:19. Kelly Burger, the Survivor Outreach Services support coordinator at Fort Belvoir, led IMCOM's Surviving Military Families team with a time of 1:17:12. Thomas Horton, Carolyn's younger brother, also of Haymarket, clocked in at 1:42:28. Pierre Laxa, IMCOM marketing's gold star pin awareness lead from San Antonio, Texas, completed the run in 1:37:28.
Leighton, who works at the U.S. Army Reserve Command Headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C., turned 49 on Oct. 11. The next day, he ran his third Army Ten-Miler.
"First thing I get to do on the day after my 49th birthday is run 10 miles for my Dad," he said. "So I'm a happy boy."
Leighton made his Army Ten-Miler debut in 2000, returned in 2011, and ran to remember in 2014.
"On March 21, 1966, he was killed in the Vietnam War when I was five months old," Leighton said. "I've been a gold-star kid a long time. He was 25 ? and mom was like 21 -- back in the day. I joined the Army at age 17, right out of high school, because that whole military thing just clicked with me.
"I just run to run -- it's mind-clearing. I just walked around the corner here and saw the #GoldStarPins, so I stopped in to register. I just started getting more involved with the gold-star stuff. It's been pushed a lot more probably in the last year.
In the past year, the Installation Management Command has released a series of three public service announcement produced by Survivor Outreach Services for just that purpose-- to raise awareness of the pins and reach out to survivors who may not be connected to the system of support available to them.
Leighton said he just recently realized that "I've lived with this my whole life."
"I'm a gold-star kid," he said. "It never dawned on me or clicked on me that's what I am."
Leighton visited the gold-star website and re-ordered gold stars for his mom, his mother and himself.
"I was able to get three new gold stars in the mail, so I'm putting something together for both of them right now, so I can give back to them plaques with the gold star in them so they have stuff. Now that I'm aware, it means a great deal to me. I think it's a great awareness.
"I'm an engineer," he continued, while wiping tears from his face. "I went to Fort Belvoir for my Officer Basic Course. As a brand-new second lieutenant in the spring of 1989, the first time I got to see the wall, my mom came down from Maine and we went together, so it was an amazing time. So every time I come here, I go to the wall and pay homage.
"I can just get his name: it's panel six, east line 33 -- on my tippy-toes, I can touch his name. Anytime I come here, I go and I say 'hi.' I like coming here because of that, even though I know he's buried in my hometown. It means a lot to me."
Nia Nguyen, 41, of Leesburg, Virginia, dedicated her eighth Army Ten-Miler to her late father Harris Nguyen, who served in Vietnam and died in 2012.
"I do it to support others, and also for those who can't do it," she said.
Leighton hopes that everyone will be more aware of the gold star campaigns.
"There's not a lot of huge knowledge out there about gold star," he said. "But even with me just learning about it over the last year, I think it's a great campaign."
Leighton, who deployed for Operation Desert Shield and to Afghanistan, said his father was with him throughout the Army Ten-Miler.
"He's always there," Leighton said. "I know he's right there. Whenever I start to get to the point in my head that 'Oh, my God, I'm so tired,' I know he's there pushing me. He's always there pushing me."