WASHINGTON, D.C. (Oct. 6, 2017) -- The price for privilege was paid with memories, miles and tears by these runners preparing to take on the U.S. Army's premier long-distance event, and they felt fortunate to dedicate their run to their hero. While every background and story variation was represented at the Run-To-Honor booth, hosted by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command's Survivor Outreach Services, the common thread was pride in their hero's service and sacrifice, as their story was told.
"I'm running for a dear friend of mine David Snodgrass, who passed away two years ago," said Army Chaplain Lt. Col Larry Dabeck, from Alexandria, Virginia, who works at the Pentagon for the joint staff. "I had the privilege of doing his funeral in his home town in Tennessee, and was with his family at Arlington National Cemetery."
The Army Ten-Miler is in its 33rd year, and has been a regular fixture in the running circuit in Arlington, Virginia, and around the nation. It is the 3rd largest ten-mile race in the world. For many runners, they see themselves in the hero they honor, making the race scheduled to start Sunday October 8, 2017, more meaningful.
"David was my battalion commander, and he was strong of faith. I would do any thing to honor his family, his wife and two children. It is my privilege to run in his honor these ten miles," Chaplain Dabeck said. "I joined the Army when I was 37, and what I found [for me] was a community of selfless people, who love their country and their comrades in arms. They love their families and they live for something better and bigger than just themselves."
"I'll be running on Sunday for Spc. Chad Edmundson, one of our troops. We lost him in Iraq in '09," said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Funk, retired from 28th Infantry Division, U.S. Army/National Guard. "I'm running for him because [he] can't. Somebody has to."
The U.S. Army Military District of Washington produces the ATM, and proceeds from the race benefit the Army's Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs, part of the G9 department within IMCOM, which serves the active duty military and their families around the nation and the world.
Every hero had just enough time in their service to make an indelible mark on the hearts of the runners.
"He was a great kid, brand new to the unit, and came to us straight out of basic training. His luck just ran out [that] day," Funk said, while choking on his sorrow. "Jeremy always wanted to be known as the Soldier who did his job."
"I'm running for my great-uncle Malcom Aldridge, who was a first lieutenant in the Army when he was killed in Korea," said Ensign Julia Walsh, a Navy nurse working at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland. "He was 27 years old, had been hurt and taken out of the theater, but later put back in to lead, only to be captured and held for a long time as a prisoner of war."
Survivor Outreach Services is a G9 program that shows the Army cares about its heroes and those left behind. These hero stories, even when handed down through generations, can test the imagination of everyday people, like Ensign Walsh, who was inspired and followed in her grandmother's footsteps and became a nurse.
"My grandmother told me [great-uncle Aldridge] was a very smart Army infantry officer, who joined after college," Walsh said. "[His status] was hard on my grandmother's parents because as a prisoner-of-war, you don't know if they are alive or dead, or coming back. For the longest time they didn't know and when they finally found out -- I can't imagine."
Each Survivor story of friend or family member lost shows the tremendous meaning the lives of these heroes had and continue to have on their runner.
"I'm running for Sgt. Collin J. Bowen - an Afghanistan brother of mine in the same unit," said Sgt. First Class Dan McClellan, from Baltimore, Maryland. "He was an embedded trainer and had about a week left [on his deployment]. He volunteered for one last mission, but hit an IED."
"He survived the first blast and was able to come home to Texas, where his died of his wounds. Running for him is a tradition for us, because he used to run with us," McClellen said, moved by his own memory. "Always second to none."
"I'm running for Lt. Col. Sally McDonald," said Lt. Col. Angela Mallory, who served together in San Antonio. "She set an example for everyone, she was a great Soldier, a great lawyer, but most of all, a great mother and friend."
These eager ATM participants were all quick to garner encouragement from their hero, as they looked forward to the difficult race.
"I think she touched a lot of people," Mallory said. "If she were running with me on Sunday, she'd tell me to pick up the pace a little."
"I'm running on Sunday for Patrick Horan," said Joe Medrano, from Corpus Christi, Texas. "We have over 300 people running on 'Pat's Team.' His brother Richard Horan is a big supporter and started this whole thing. We started with ten people and now we have exceeded 300, the support we get is unbelievable."
IMCOM's Run To Honor campaign is to remember fallen heroes, but some stories of survival, recovery and resilience can lift even the heaviest of hearts.
"Patrick has made a tremendous recovery with other wounded warriors," Medrano said. "He was shot in the head, but here he is today, he'll be racing on Sunday in a wheelchair. We'll be following him."
Many survive and inspire, while others push on, through the hearts they've touched.
"I'm running for Maj. Mike Donahue, a very inspirational individual," said Joe Matosian, from Augusta, Georgia (Fort Gordon). "He was a huge runner -- part of the running community in Augusta."
Stories at the Run To Honor booth can quickly take a turn from tragedy to comfort.
"He PCSed to Fort Bragg and deployed with the 82nd to Afghanistan. In Sept. 2014. A suicide bomber killed him. He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery now," Matosian said in a matter-of-fact way only the passage of time can affect. "I'm very familiar with the service and sacrifice our military makes. I just want to thank him for his positive outlook on life and the way he lifted up everyone around him. I loved one of his favorite mottos: 'everyday is a great day.'"
"Patrick gets to your heart because everyone you see is so supportive," Medrano said, who was also running for his family members Mike, Gilbert and Carl Medrano. "There is so much love and [The Army Ten-Miler] is such a positive event. I want our troops to be remembered in a positive way, and let them know that we are thinking about them, whether they're here, overseas, or just getting ready to go overseas."
Running in the name of someone else is a silent gift in many ways. These runners took the time at the Army Ten-Miler Expo to sign up and get their photo taken, fully intending to wear a second bib on the back of their jersey, so that other runners they pass, or who pass them, can see the names they have had the privilege to remember.
"We've lost a lot of service members," said Maj. Joe Mroszczyk, who works at the Pentagon and was running to honor four heroes. "Spc. Matt Morris, Cpt. Torri Mallard, Cpt. Mike Medders, and Cpl. Greg Unruh - these are four who were closest to me, and I had direct contact with their families. I tried to help them through, after they suffered their greatest loss. [The Soldiers] did their best - and we're all trying to do our best to honor their service and sacrifice, and keep the mission going forward."
"To my great-uncle, thank you so much for your service and everything you did for our family and our country," Walsh said, unable to hold back her tears.