More than 6,600 community members and guests covered a combined distance surpassing 15,000 miles during Fort Lee's annual Run for the Fallen observance May 12 at Williams Stadium.
This eighth installment of the event included a special performance by the U.S. Army Drill Team, a survivors' first lap led by members of the Patriot Guard and a Gold Star Spouse as the guest speaker.
Salina Renteria's husband, Sgt. David Almazan, died in 2006 while deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During her remarks, she described the emotional hardships she endured in the weeks and months following the loss, and the detrimental impact that experience had on her health. Eventually, she returned to running - an activity she and her husband shared - to reinvigorate her spirit and restore her health.
"I know I'm in a better place today, and my running has taken me all over the world (including one journey along the Great Wall of China). I still miss him with all my heart, but there is inspiration in the something we shared," she observed. "The support from people like you also uplifts my spirit, and I am humbled to be here today sharing in the legacy of this running event."
Having previously spoken at a Run for the Fallen gathering here several years ago, Renteria also quipped about the "slightly smaller crowd" back then. "What I saw coming into this stadium today is phenomenal. It is a blessed sight to see how much the community has grown in support of this run."
Members of Fort Lee's leadership team also shared their views about the significance of the day's agenda.
"Our community deserves a special outlet to remember and celebrate their fallen loved ones," said Command Sgt. Maj. Vittorio DeSouza, garrison CSM, "This event presents their memories in such a dignified way."
The CSM said he participates in Run for the Fallen every year, and it has always served as a vivid reminder of the sacrifices America's sons, daughters, wives and husbands make for the country.
"It is so powerful to come together with service members and Gold Star Families as we pay tribute to the fallen heroes we continue to love and honor," he said. "We run past specific people we honor. We hear their names. We see their faces. We feel their spirits. We run with their families, friends and fellow service members, and by doing so, we show our fallen they have not been forgotten."
Maj. Gen. Paul C. Hurley Jr., CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, said he is appreciative of the large crowd that turned out for the event.
"We're here today to honor those who have given their lives in our defense and the Gold Star Families of those fallen heroes," Hurley summarized.
The Run for the Fallen tribute was born when a group of runners traveled from Fort Erwin, Calif., to Arlington National Cemetery - covering a mile for each Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine killed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Hurley. For the 10 weeks they ran, team members marked each mile with an American flag and a sign in memory of each service member that had fallen.
"Fort Lee's first event was in 2010 and there were 200 participants," said Hurley. "As you can see, we've grown significantly. I'm not sure how many thousands of people are here, but it's great to see every one of you."