By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterJune 9, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Hundreds of Soldiers, family members, retirees and civilians came together to take part in a run to pay tribute to those who died while serving their nation, and to honor the families left behind.
The Directorate of Family, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation hosted the 2017 Survivors and Fallen Heroes 5k run in front of the Fort Rucker Physical Fitness Center June 3 to help keep those who sacrificed in service in the hearts and minds of those who enjoy the freedoms they fought for.
"Today is an opportunity for us to come together as a community, as a whole, as we represent over 400 fallen service members in the Alabama and northwest Florida areas," said Cheareice Thomas, Fort Rucker Survivor Outreach Services coordinator.
"We have so many Gold Star Family members who are in the local community, but also all across the state and northwest Florida. They live with the sacrifice every single day," added Beth Gunter, SOS financial counselor. "For people to understand that these families are here in our community and recognize the sacrifice that they've given for us is very, very important. We just want to honor them and keep their service member's memory alive."
During the 5k run, runners were invited to wear gold stars with the names of the service members they wished to honor. For Rachel Wagner, Gold Star Family member, she wasn't running for just one Soldier, but many.
Wagner was running for her first husband, CW2 David Averez, who was killed in an accident in Italy in 2007. She also ran with the names Capt. Christian Skoglund and Capt. Cartize Durham, who were also killed in the accident, and a family friend, Sgt. Phil Svitak.
"I think this is just a way to remember the sacrifice that they made and that freedom is not free," she said. "It's very touching to me that people are out here running in honor of those Soldiers who have died."
For Jessica Holmes, civilian, who has never experienced the loss of an immediate family member, she felt it was her duty to come out and support those who had.
"I run a lot as just a hobby, but I figured this is a good way to run for a cause," she said. "To be able to run in honor of so many who have given their lives for this country and our freedom is as good a cause as any. It's a privilege for me to be able to do so in their honor and to support the family members who have also sacrificed in their loss."
Building that type of awareness and community outreach is exactly what Thomas said is the purpose of the run -- to help people understand the sacrifices the families have made, as well.
"When people see these Gold Star lapel pins on family members in the area, ask about it and tell others about it -- we can't stress that enough," she said. "We want more and more [Gold Star Family members] to be able to come out and know that we're supporting them."
"The Gold Star Family members want to talk about their service members," she added. "If you see that Gold Star pin, ask about their service member and ask about the sacrifice that they've given. It can give them significance and shows that their loved ones matter."