By Melissa Bower, Fort Leavenworth LampAugust 25, 2011
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Aug. 25, 2011) -- Ally Eckert was in the sixth grade when her brother, Sgt. Gary "Andy" Eckert Jr. was killed in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in 2005.
Her memory of him remains strong.
Eckert, an 18-year-old student at Kansas City Kansas Community College, ran 3.1 miles in honor of her brother at Fort Leavenworth's Run for the Fallen Aug. 20.
About 550 participants ran a total of 1,731.5 miles to honor fallen service members for the event, coordinated by Survivor Outreach Services, Army Community Service, and the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
"I like being able to honor him," Eckert said. "He was an extremely nice and caring person."
Eckert said that her brother, a Purple Heart recipient from a previous tour to Iraq, was not required to deploy but chose to do so. Her brother left behind a wife and two children.
Some participants, like Eckert, were surviving family members, some were fellow service members honoring their friends, and some were complete strangers who wanted to honor fallen service members.
There are 138 fallen service members in Fort Leavenworth's SOS coverage area, and 138 American flags lined Thomas Avenue in front of the Resiliency Center to honor them. Runners were able to choose from a list of names or to write in their own on a bib to wear while running. The route near the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery was 3.1 miles, but many stronger runners chose to go back for a second time to run more than 6 miles.
Sharon Adams, SOS specialist, said she found the national Run for the Fallen website a month ago and no Kansas runs were on the list. The national organization's goal is to have all 50 states represented. Adams approached FMWR about having the run next year.
Ben Fonte, plans and operations office for FMWR, said he thought they could pull it off this year. Fort Leavenworth staff had less than 30 days to plan.
"We really had to leverage the volunteer corps," Fonte said. "There's no paid staff out here."
Many Fort Leavenworth staff volunteered their time at the event, as well as regular volunteers.
Mo-Kan Gold Star Families, the Northeast Kansas Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers and Patriot Guard Riders from around the area were among those who assisted in planning, set-up and clean up of the event.
After the run, the general public and family members were invited to tour the Center of Valor and Remembrance at the Resiliency Center to see portraits and photo albums of local fallen service members. Family members were also there to share stories about their service members.
SOS serves all these families in the area and provides services and events throughout the year. For example, a lantern release onto Merritt Lake is scheduled later this year as an intimate memorial for the families of fallen service members. SOS also has financial professionals available.
Christina Gary, SOS outreach coordinator for Fort Riley, came to the Fort Leavenworth event to participate. She saw the name of a recent fallen service member, Spc. Spencer Duncan, who had been laid to rest in the post cemetery two days before.
"Nobody had picked his name so I just had to do it," she said. "I would have hated for his name to sit there and not be picked up."
Maj. John Ling, a student in the 2012-01 Intermediate Level Education class at the Command and General Staff College, wrote in the name of his friend, Capt. Ben Sklaver. Ling served with Sklaver in a civil affairs team in Africa. Sklaver was killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
"I have not done a run in memoriam of anybody before," Ling said. "It's good to see the support from the community. What I liked best about this was seeing the Gold Star Mothers and knowing that they could see our support."
Jamaican Army Maj. Dionne Sinclair, a CGSC student in the ILE 2012-01 class, wore the name of a Jamaican-American, Sgt. Shakere T. Guy, killed by an IED in 2005. Several Jamaican-Americans have died serving in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Sinclair said she wanted to honor all of them.
"It's very important to do this for the families," she said,"and just to keep in mind of what these people have given for us."
Command Sgt. Maj. Joe Parson, from the School of Command Preparation at CGSC, wore the name of Sgt. Gene Lamie, one of the noncommissioned officers who served with him in Iraq in 2007. Lamie was killed by an IED that detonated near his vehicle.
"It keeps them at the front of your mind," Parson said. "Sometimes we get busy with our daily lives and forget. It takes events like this to put it into perspective."
Rodney Morris, retired lieutenant colonel and instructor at CGSC, ran in honor of his former boss, Col. Jim Harrison Jr., who was killed in Afghanistan in 2007 by small arms fire.
Morris was pleased to honor his boss and friend, and to teach his son, 13-year-old Cameron, about honoring fallen service members.
"This is awesome," he said of the run. "We need to do this every year. This is the reason to come out and run. This is a more important reason, than even physical fitness, to come out and run."