FORT IRWIN, Calif. — On April 7, 2018, the Fort Irwin community gathered with Gold Star families at the installation’s iconic Painted Rocks. In the shadow of New York Fire Truck 152, an artifact given to Fort Irwin after 9/11, they waited for volunteer runners to finish the first mile of the national Run for the Fallen.
The run is a 6,100-mile trek across the country to honor fallen heroes who died in the War on Terror. The route begins at Fort Irwin, continues through 19 states, and will conclude at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Runners will stop every mile to honor the fallen, and flags with the honorees’ names will be placed at the mile markers.
According to group organizer Laura Sutton, this year is special because it is the Run for the Fallen organization’s 10-year anniversary. All regional Run for The Heroes events will be incorporated into the national run, engaging and bringing awareness to communities across the country.
Events like the run are important to Gold Star families because it keeps their children’s names and memories alive, said Gold Star Mother Sue Pollard. Giving back to the active military community is how she honors her son, Spc. Justin W. Pollard.
The first mile of the Run for The Fallen honored the 17 Sailors who perished on the USS Cole. The USS Cole bombing was a terror attack against the U.S. Navy destroyer on October 12, 2000. It was the deadliest attack on a U.S. vessel since 1987.
On completion of their first mile, the runners came to a halt in front of Painted Rocks. A rush of excitement and tears swept through the crowed as onlookers yelled, “Here they come.” A prayer was heard, the National Anthem was played, and runners planted their flags in remembrance.
The runners continued from Fort Irwin in upwards of 40 mph winds to the outskirts of Barstow. Leaders, Soldiers and civilians from Fort Irwin accompanied the runners for various segments of the route. 1st Lt. Travis Lindeman, from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, was dubbed the day’s VIP by group organizers and fellow runner Kristen Smith because he completed 32 miles of the 36-mile leg.
“This is the greatest experience; you get a real sense of the magnitude of lives lost,” said Smith, a civilian who works with veterans as a physical therapist. Smith will run the route until it reaches Blythe, and then will rejoin the group in August to finish the last four days of the journey.
End of day services were held at the Barstow Veterans of Foreign Wars post. Gold Star families were presented with honor flags embroidered with their loved ones’ names. California honored 542 fallen heroes and their families. To learn more about the Run for the Fallen, visit http://runforthefallen.org