By Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public AffairsNovember 9, 2015
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. -- Approximately 500 runners congregated at Fort Ord Dunes State Park to honor fallen service members during the third annual Honor Our Fallen 5K & 10K Run/Walk, Oct. 24.
Army Gold Star Mother Margot Stengel founded the event in 2012 to honor the memory and sacrifice of those from Monterey County who lost their lives serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Stengel lost her eldest son, Army National Guardsman Sgt. Vincent Wayne Ashlock, on Dec. 4, 2010 while he was in Afghanistan.
"This year was the most exciting, yet challenging, event and I am really thrilled with the results and the community gathering in support and partnership honoring our fallen and showing respect to our active duty service members," said Stengel.
This will be the last year that Stengel organizes the event, passing those responsibilities to the Presidio of Monterey Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program. Stengel says she hopes to soon find a job that has some meaning and get a social life.
"The Army is taking over and I couldn't be happier or dreamt up a better solution," said Stengel. "When my son died there were nine fallen service members in Monterey County and nobody seemed to be aware of it. So, my mission was to make sure they would never be forgotten. I'm not a run director. I'm not an organizer. I'm not even an athlete. So I feel very accomplished and pleased right now, and although it's been rough and tough, it exceeded my expectations."
Jimmy Panetta, Navy veteran, deputy district attorney, Veterans Transition Center board member, and vice chair of the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Foundation was guest speaker and a run participant who addressed the crowd with inspirational words prior to the start. Panetta is also the son of former Congressman, White House Chief of Staff, CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
"As someone who is from this area looking out upon this crowd it makes me very proud, and as a veteran who served in Afghanistan I am humbled by everyone who came out here to honor those people who gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Panetta. "This community gets it and that's because of the men and women who came here; served here; stayed here; and contributed to the culture here. That is why this community will never turn its back on those who never turned back."
Panetta also brought attention to 14 service members by speaking their names one by one, those from Monterey County who lost their lives serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose photos were seen as markers along both the 5K and 10K course.
"For lack of better words, it made it easier during the run when you see the portraits of those 14 fallen men and you realize what they sacrificed. It makes you realize that what you are doing out here is nothing much. But it is something for them and that gave me motivation to run harder," said Panetta afterwards. "Monterey has a rich history when it comes to our military. Starting when Commodore Sloat landed here in 1849 through 80 years of the former Fort Ord and now with the 10 or so military institutions that lie in Monterey County. We have service members. We have veterans. We have families of those people in this community and I think it is exemplified by this race how much Monterey cares about the people who serve."
Many of the race participants were drawn from the local military community, including Lance Cpl. Jason Joliff, Marine Corps Detachment Monterey. Joliff ran in a group with six other Marines from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.
"We wanted to run together because that's what we do as Marines, we stick together," said Joliff. "We had an opportunity to run for the fallen and suffer a little bit for people who have died for our country. That is a very small way to say thank you to those people who gave everything for their country."
Joliff drew inspiration from the Gold Star family members in attendance.
"Seeing those Gold Star mothers and family members here, I have nothing but respect for them. Instead of letting life knock them down they pay it forward and come to events like this and support our troops. It warms my heart," said Joliff. "I haven't deployed yet. But when I see this support from the community for what I am a part of, even though I feel I haven't really done anything yet myself, it is that much more motivating for when I do go out there to serve my country and do something bigger than myself."
Seaman Steven Dossett, Center for Information Dominance Unit Monterey, did not participate as a runner. Dossett gave his time, along with a large number of other DLIFLC students, as a volunteer to make sure the event ran smoothly.
"I was helping out at the registration table handing out ankle monitors," explained Dossett. "What better cause could there be than being out here supporting the family members of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country? I saw a family walking by with a picture of someone who had given their life in service and that definitely hit home for me. It reminds me of how much respect those families deserve."
Dossett went into further detail on why he felt it was important to contribute to community events such as these.
"In the military we want to be an active part of the community. Especially here at DLI we don't want to be seen as 'those guys and gals up on the hill' doing whatever it is we do," said Dossett. "We believe that we are a part of the community and we want to be giving back, helping to enrich the communities and be a positive influence everywhere we go. We try to encourage one another to give back with our time whenever we can. Sure we are busy, but it's an important thing."