Lt. Col. Mark Leighton, HHC 412th Theater Engineer Command, had a lot on his mind while performing his warm up stretches prior to the 27th Annual Army 10-Miler in D.C.
The day before, Leighton visited the Vietnam Memorial to pay tribute to his dad, but he was also dealing with a more immediate loss. His friend Lt. Col. Jeff Dryden, a former 412th TEC intelligence officer, was killed in a motorcycle accident a month earlier.
Leighton and Dryden trained together during the summer of 2009 while preparing for their deployment to Afghanistan with an element of the TEC headquarters known as Deployable Command Post One.
As he trotted through D.C. with approximately 25-thousand other runners, Leighton reflected on past conversations with Dryden about "pushing through" and being examples for the younger Soldiers.
Around the eight-mile mark, Leighton said his body "started to ache and stiffen up," like it did 11 years earlier when he competed in the event.
Dryden wasn't around to encourage him, at least not physically.
"Jeff popped into my head just as it was getting tough for me," Leighton said. "I had true inspiration whispering in my ear."
Leighton dedicated the last two miles to Dryden. He said he felt an emotional release and a sense of accomplishment as he crossed the finish line.
"I knew he would have been there cheering me on, if he could - and he was," Leighton said. "WE did it."