HALAWA, Hawaii - Minutes before the first military units of the Sounds of Freedom Division arrived at Aloha Stadium, several other "Army Strong" Soldiers hobbled across the finish line.

Their brave efforts were recognized by the scattered applause of those who had come to cheer on the thousands competing in this year's Great Aloha Run.

Among the participants to complete the 8.15-mile run/walk from Aloha Tower to Aloha Stadium on President's Day, Feb. 15 - and accomplish the task while operating on a pair of bad wheels - were the self-proclaimed "walking wounded," which included Chief Warrant Officer Letonja Nixon of the 8th Sustainment Brigade and Spc. Nathan Walton of the 25th Transportation Company.

"My objective was to finish the race. Whether I walked or crawled across the line, as long as I made it, that was the main thing," said a perspiration-soaked Nixon, who walked the first few miles of the event before she gave in to her competitive juices and "just started running."

"I knew I could do it, even though I shouldn't be running at all," Nixon explained, while looking down at her throbbing right leg, which revealed a knee sleeve to support a recent meniscus tear.

Her left leg didn't feel any better, having undergone a couple of knee surgeries in the last few years.

But Nixon hadn't come to the 26th annual event to make excuses, just to give back in whatever way she could.

"I know I'm going to pay for this tonight," she said, massaging her legs while cheering on her comrades as they jogged by information. "But you know what' It's all for a good cause."

Walton agreed with the latter statement as he slow-jogged his way up a green ramp that led out of the stadium.

"I got bad legs," he admitted, "but I don't regret doing this. It was worth it. After all, we did the run for charity."

An estimated 21,000 participants did their part in raising funds for Carole Kai Charities, with monies going to more than 150 nonprofit local organizations, including the Hawaii High School Athletic Association; various military Morale, Welfare and Recreation offices; and the United Cerebral Palsy Association.

Since its inception in 1985, the Great Aloha Run has raised more than $8.1 million. Kaiser Permanente was this year's title sponsor.

"It's all about the people," said Lt. Col. Marty Muchow, operations division, U.S. Army-Pacific, who captured first place in the men's Military Division, finishing with a time of 45 minutes, 6 seconds.

For his efforts, Muchow, a Mililani resident, pocketed $1,000.

"The crowd is so big," he continued. "It's so amazing whenever you can get 20,000 people to do any one thing, so it's good to see different people come out and participate."

Doing their part in the charity-driven race was the aforementioned Sounds of Freedom Division, composed solely of active duty men and women from all branches of service, running in formation while calling cadence.

This year's number of Sounds of Freedom participants was once again noteworthy, with a total of 3,250 military runners entered. Of that number, an astounding 3,012 runners represented the U.S. Army, with the 25th Infantry Division commanding a good two-thirds of those entrants.

For its efforts, the 25th ID was recognized with the Largest Unit in Formation Award. Graciously accepting the honor at the post-race awards ceremony was Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, commanding general of the 25th ID.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commanding general, USARPAC, gladly accepted the award for the Largest Branch of Service.

About an hour after the first runners crossed the finish line, Mixon took the field near the stadium's south end zone and addressed the crowd of runners, their friends and family members, and event volunteers. He thanked them for their efforts in making the event so memorable, and for their continued support of service members during their deployments.

"These colors represent our units and they represent America," said Mixon, referring to the two rows of Soldiers behind him - all bearing unit flags of varying colors and significance. "Without your support, we could not be 'Army Strong.'"

Great Aloha Run Race Results
Aca,!Ac Men's (for Military)
1st- Marty Muchow, Mililani, 45:06 (Army)
2nd- Raymond Kuderka, Ewa Beach, 46:06 (Army)
3rd- Conor Lucas-Rober, Kaneohe, 46:42 (Marines)

Aca,!Ac Women's (for Military)
1st- Sandra Ferreira, Kaneohe, 55:33 (Coast Guard)
2nd- Rosemary Spraker, Honolulu, 1:00:32 (Air Force)
3rd- Kristin Keith, Mililani, 1:01:26 (Army)