Note: This article originally appeared in the 2013 edition of Saint Leo University's Spirit Magazine.
Every day and all over the world, members of the U.S. armed forces put themselves in harm's way, all to benefit other people. They sacrifice their own safety for a cause that is bigger than they are individually. While we all can be grateful for such service, we may also wonder how we can tangibly honor the lives that have been lost.
On December 29, 2005, George Anthony Lutz made the ultimate sacrifice in Fallujah, Iraq. This moment was a turning point in the life of his father, George Lutz, who went on to found Honor and Remember, Inc. He traveled 25,000 miles through 50 states to promote the "Honor and Remember" flag and create a national symbol—a reminder of all who have given their lives in service to the United States.
Over the weekend of May 2-5, 2013, Honor and Remember held a very special event in Virginia for the men and women of that state who have sacrificed their lives. The Run for the Fallen was a 236-mile race, held over the course of four days. At each mile, there was a marker for each Virginia servicemember who died in battle.
A team of military personnel ran the 236 miles—from Fort Story, VA, to Arlington Cemetery—and they were joined by Saint Leo Assistant Cross Country Coach Kent Reiber, who has been with the university since August 2011. Kent's brother, Jared, is a corpsman in the U.S. Navy, and he approached Kent about three months before the race, asking for help to train. When Kent heard the details of the race, he wanted to take part, even though he is not a member of the military. He was granted permission to do so, and he agreed to answer questions about his experience.
Spirit magazine: How many people participated in the Run for the Fallen?
Kent Reiber: There were 17 military personnel actually running in the event, a combination of Navy and Army members. However, the event couldn't have taken place without the support staff. Every day we had police escorts from every county we passed along the run. Behind the police was the lead car, with George Lutz (whose son was the first mile marker that we stopped at) and Laura Sutton (a promoter for Honor and Remember, whose son is enlisted in the military). The runners followed behind the lead car. Following the runners was a truck and trailer with all of our gear (water, Gatorade, Red Bull, Gu, Cliff Gels, and Gatorade Chews). Behind the truck was an RV that carried most of the runners (when their group was not running). Following the RV was a caravan of Chesapeake, VA, firefighter/paramedics (two vans, an ambulance, and a fire car).
Spirit: How many miles did you run yourself?
Reiber: I personally ran 60 miles of the 236 miles, and my brother ran 65 miles. There was a guy who ran 127 miles of the event; he ran at West Point and is now stationed in Virginia as a lieutenant in the Army.
Spirit: What was the Run for the Fallen experience like for you? What were the biggest challenges?
Reiber: I can't compare the experience to anything I've ever done before. At every mile there was a family who lost a loved one; the runners would hug them and thank them for their sacrifice. That, for me, was the most emotional time. I remember running to mile marker 172 and seeing a large family waiting for us. One of the runners read the bio for the fallen hero, while his family stood there listening. After they saluted to the flag and soldier, whom they had just placed in the ground, they began to hug the family. I went straight to the mother who had lost her son, and when I hugged her I broke down crying with her. As I tried to let go, because we were on a schedule, she wouldn't let go. As she was about to let go, she asked for my name, and when I told her she said, "Thank you. I will never forget you."
The next biggest challenge for me was at Arlington Cemetery, where we met several families from the run and listed off all the names of heroes, from VA, who have sacrificed their lives so that we may live free. A chief of staff to the president came to speak to the runners, and when he gave his speech there was not a dry eye in the crowd that had gathered there. He spoke of one of his soldiers, honored at mile marker 26, and how if he had stopped to talk to this soldier for just one more minute, he might still be alive.
Spirit: If you had to name one thing, what will you most remember about the run?
Reiber: The thing I will remember most about the run is how the other runners (all military) embraced me (a civilian) as one of their own. The first day and a half they didn't talk to me much, but as I continued running with them, they let me into their "family." At one point on the third day, they allowed me to carry one of the flags (specifically the state flag of Virginia), and that meant the world to me. I can't thank them enough for their service, and how they made me feel a part of the group. Those men and women are truly remarkable.
In addition to Assistant Coach Reiber and the other runners, another group of people played a key role in the event: volunteers. People from all over the region gave of their time to take part, being present to honor soldiers at the mile markers and help provide supplies to the runners. These volunteers offered community support, giving of their time and showing respect for those who serve our nation.
"The most impressive thing about the race was the enthusiasm and pride that the runners showed as they prepared for the race. Each mile of the run was dedicated to a Virginia hero for his or her service to our country. It was awesome to see all of the family members cheering on all of the runners."
—Linda Isaac, assistant director of admissions, South Hampton Roads Education Center
Using the model from the original Run for the Fallen tribute in 2008, Honor and Remember, Inc., has established the Virginia Run for the Fallen. It is a compilation of runners and support crew whose mission is clear and simple: To run one mile for every Virginia servicemember killed as a result of serving during the War on Terror including Operation Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn. Each mile of sweat and pain and each flag saluted are to pay homage to one service member's life and family.
The first weekend of May, we run across Virginia to raise awareness for the lives of those who fought and died, to rejuvenate their memories and keep their spirits alive, and to aid in the healing process for the Virginia residents whose lives have been affected by the war.
We are dedicated to Honor and Remember as we blaze a 236-mile tribute trail to Arlington National Cemetery. One Mile – One Marker – One Hero
To learn more about the Run for the Fallen, visit the website at http://www.varunforthefallen.org/.