FORT LEE, Va. (Sept. 11, 2021) – Run for the Fallen returned as a live, coordinated event Sept. 11. It featured more than 3,000 participants who honored lost military members, listened to stories of resilience and received affirmation survivors will never be forgotten.
The annual event known as RFTF for short, has been held previously in May and was staged virtually last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic earlier this year and the 9/11 20-year observance, however, pushed organizers to the second Saturday in September.
Under the circumstances, including mild temperatures and partly sunny skies, RFTF’s 11th edition was no less substantive and meaningful than past events. Mini-displays honoring fallen military members dotted the 5K and 1-mile running courses as in past years, and poster portraits of deceased service members dominated the grandstands.
Furthermore, community and military members including many with families and pets, melded to form an atmosphere that was teaming with energy, yet reverent and solemn.
Maj. Gen. Mark T. Simerly, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, provided introductory remarks for the occasion. He thanked participants and sponsors for supporting the event, then recognized the 9/11 tragedy as a life-altering event for the nation and pointed out RFTF’s charge to honor fallen military members and Gold Star family members.
Later, Simerly stated participants’ presence – in whatever capacity – was a symbolic gesture to honor and support.
“Every step you take today – whether you run or walk – is part of the tribute to our fallen heroes, and to the wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers, and siblings who remain,” said Simerly. “They were our friends, our neighbors, our fellow Americans. While we mourn their loss, we also celebrate their lives, remembering the impact they had on us all.”
Following Simerly, retired Col. Tamatha Patterson took the lectern. The former CASCOM chief of staff, and 23rd Quartermaster Brigade commander, shared details of the moments before and days after her husband Maj. Clifford Patterson went missing at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The events of that day has changed my life forever, and it will be forever etched in my mind,” said Patterson, who earlier said she was proud to represent Gold Star family members.
On that day, Maj. Patterson, said goodbye to his wife, kissed her and their young sons, then rode his motorcycle to work at the Pentagon. It was just like any other day, except at around 9:40 a.m., a jet commandeered by terrorists was flown into the southwest side of the nation’s military headquarters.
One hundred, eighty-four people died that day, including Maj. Patterson. His wife was officially notified of his death more than two weeks later.
In the aftermath, said Patterson, she continued on with her military career, but she was buckling under boulders of grief.
“I can share with you that I struggled with coming to grips with reality, but I kept it inside,” she told the crowd.
Patterson shared her story with the media eight years later, and it provided some relief. She was still reeling from loss, however.
“I was sad, scared, angry and lonely all at the same time,” she said. “My journey to where I am today has been a long one because I attempted to do it all by myself – all while trying to be a mother, sister, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, Soldier and friend.”
When Patterson committed to confronting the death of her husband, the veils of despair began to lift.
“It was difficult, but it made me stronger, confident and more humble as I faced each day,” she recalled.
Patterson then pivoted to provide advice to those present.
“For those who are grieving today, I hope you can see through my story,” she said. “It’s OK to be human … to cry, to be angry, to grieve, to seek help. It’s all about you and how you deal with your loss. But deal with the loss so you can live your life to the fullest each and every day.”
Faith, family and friends, Patterson continued, have made all the difference in her efforts to move on. As a Christian, she learned to lean on God no matter what tragedy one is confronted.
“Run to God and not away from him,” said Patterson.
Several survivors and their family members were among the attendees.
Prior to Patterson’s speech, the U.S. Army Drill Team performed its world-renown marching and weapon movements. The unit is part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (Old Guard), the Army’s official ceremonial unit.
The entertainment included music by the Training and Doctrine Command Band.
Army Community Service’s Survivor Outreach Services coordinates RFTF. It was supported in its efforts by Fort Lee’s Family and Morale, Welfare, Recreation and a number of other installation agencies and organizations.