By Kalene Lozick, Fort Riley Public AffairsSeptember 14, 2017
FORT RILEY, Kan. -- More than 600 people gathered Sept. 9 to remember the fallen during the 5th annual Fallen Hero Run at Riley's Conference Center.
Volunteers of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation and Survivor Outreach Services were brought together with a common mission to remember and pay respects to Soldiers who have lost their lives during combat or when stressors of being in the service become too much to bear.
New this year was the Fallen Hero Boot Display. On the 2-mile course, volunteers and staff invited those in attendance to decorate boots in memory of a fallen service members.
Christina Gary, SOS program manager, said the boot display is for everyone to see.
"Not everyone realizes how many causalities we have had at Fort Riley and across the Army all together," she said.
Generosity was shown by those who did not partake in the event by donating military boots for the display.
"I had a Soldier from 3rd Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, that brought in 10 (boots) at exactly 6:15 a.m.," Gary said. "I told him there are family members that would be so honored."
Honored family members who attended the run were Gold Star Families.
Gold Star Families are families who have experienced the loss of a Soldier. The 5th Annual Fallen Hero Run is the opportunity for Gold Star Families to join the Army community to honor the Soldier they lost.
"This is one of my favorite events we do because it is not just a Gold Star Family event, it is a community event," Gary said. "So when we have Gold Star family members who show up here and see everyone else who comes out that are not Gold Star, it just speaks volumes."
Dody Berg, a Gold Star Family member, has been attending the Fallen Hero Runs for three years. Her son, Sgt. 1st Class Forrest Robertson, who was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2014.
She said after her son's death she got involved with SOS. The Fallen Hero Run is her favorite event.
"The administration on base is great," Berg said. "We've had good luck with them all, we've been cared about. I say we're Gold Star and I get a hug."
The event's mission to remember the fallen carries on by providing all participants with blank bibs.
Ken Roynon, fitness coordinator at Whitside Fitness Center, said "we give (the participants) blank bibs and they draw their own design on it. It can be the name of the person they're running for -- their dad, husband or wife."
Participants wrote statements like "Run for the Fallen," "Never forgotten" and the name of the fallen Soldier with a personal note.
Before the run began at 9:11 a.m., Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley commanding general, took a few minutes to give his thanks to the DFMWR and SOS staff, welcome the Gold Star Families and provide context for the run.
"This run and this weekend are about recognizing something that is significant that has happened to our country in the recent past," Martin said. "On Sept. 11, 2001, we lost several thousand people in an attack on the country, against our culture and against our people. They lost their lives that day."
The Fallen Boot Display is designed to recognize these men and women who lost their lives protecting our freedom.
"You are going to come up to a boot display with pictures of people from units who never want to forget someone who was lost in this endeavor," Martin said.
Sarah Ikena, wife to Lt. Col. Richard Joseph Ikena Jr., 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1 ABCT, 1st Inf. Div., ran for multiple Soldiers who were KIA and those who took their own life.
"Sometimes, we forget about those as well," Ikena said. "It may not have happened in combat, but it happened on stressors of being in the service. So we don't want to forget those who have lost their lives to suicide as well."
Major Elise Ffitch, Operation Chief for 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 3rd Company, 4th Battalion, Corps of Artillerists and Engineers in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, attended the run with seven fellow service members from Fort Sill. The Soldiers were running for a fellow Soldier who was killed in a garrison fatality a few months ago.
"In the Army we just go, go, go," Ffitch said. "We learn to be resilient and move on, but we had an actual moment to pause and realize this was a true event that did not just affect our Army family, but his family as well."
In conclusion of the race, the event provided six 8-foot banners with the Fallen Hero logo on them.
"When you come back, cross the finish line, there will be banners," Martin said. "We ask you to write anything you want on that banner. We are going to hang those banners in the gyms across the installation so we never forget."
As the 1st Inf. Div. motto states, "No Mission too Difficult, No Sacrifice too Great. Duty First."
The final count for the 5th annual Fallen Hero Run was 663 runners with more than 40 boots donated.