BAGHDAD- To celebrate African American/Black History Month, equal opportunity leaders of 299th Brigade Support Battalion wanted to do something that all branches of the military and Department of Defense contractors could participate in, so they hosted a 5-kilometer race on Victory Base Complex here at Z Lake, Feb. 21.

"It took months of planning, but I thought it would be good for us to work together," said Staff Sgt. Ericka Benjamin from Fort Riley, Kan., an equal opportunity leader for the 299th BSB.

The race began in the early morning hours with more than one hundred people waiting in line to sign up and receive a free T-shirt as a thank you for supporting the race and African American/Black History Month.

"It was a huge turn-out, more than what we expected," said Benjamin.

Following a short prayer, participants who varied in rank, branch of service and culture lined the streets to begin the 5-kilometer course around Z Lake. While some contestants came in hopes of winning the award for first place, others ran to support the cause.

"It's a good feeling to see people of different cultures, branches of service and units show their support," said Benjamin. "For Soldiers, it's a morale booster."

At the start of the race, participants sprinted around the course. Some ran with the help of partners, while others decided to run alone.

Runners who finished early, stood on the sidelines to cheer and encourage those who were still finishing the race.

"I came in support of my battalion but also to win," said 1st Lt. Andrea Bontrager also from Fort Riley, the first place winner for females; finishing the race in 23 minutes.

"Overall it was a huge success," said race organizer Command Sgt. Maj. Julia Kelly of the 299th BSB. "It took a lot of moving pieces, but it came together nicely." "I'm proud of everyone who helped or participated."

Benjamin said she was happy to see the values of servicemembers and civilians of varying cultures and ethnicities supporting this event geared toward recognizing African American/Black History.