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Fort Gordon run pays tribute to fallen troops

By SARAH LEBLANC | The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle | Published: May 14, 2019

AUGUSTA, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — With each step that hits the ground, Sgt. Eligio Castilleja thinks about the Marines who ran before him.

Castilleja is one of about 100 Marines and sailors at Fort Gordon participating in the 15th annual Tribute to the Fallen run, which spans 10 days. Each day, Marines and sailors will take turns running laps around Barton Field, about three miles per lap, continuously.

Castilleja began the run for the second time Monday after the opening ceremony. He said the run is a way to carry the legacies of the fallen with him.

"I'm running just to give everything I've got for the Marines before me and after me and the ones who have fallen and the Navy, all our fallen comrades in the military," Castilleja said, "just to appreciate them and the ultimate sacrifice that they gave."

The run honors the more than 1,500 Marine and Navy service members who have died in the Middle East. Each lap recognizes three of the fallen, with service members running 1,500 miles in total over 10 days.

Each runner carries three dog tags, symbolizing the three service members they are running to remember.

Maj. Michael Lehmer remembers a Marine he went through boot camp with and his former staff sergeant, an explosive ordnance disposal technician.

As the service members run, the faces of the three Marines and sailors they are running for are projected on a screen at the field. Lehmer said he tries to learn more about them and thinks about them as he runs.

"We don't want their sacrifices forgotten," Lehmer said. "Every day there are Marines and sailors and soldiers and airmen around the globe protecting us and they're still passing away in various conflicts, so it's our opportunity to remember."

Previously, the run was held closer to Veterans Day in November, but this year the event moved to May for Memorial Day.

"It's important to honor the fallen because they paid that sacrifice and many of us lost friends and family to make that sacrifice," Lehmer said. "It's important that we remember them and it doesn't just become this forgotten thing."

Each lap lasts about 20 minutes to ensure that the run ends May 22 at the same time it began, at 8 a.m. The final lap will be completed by all of the Marines and sailors who participated, along with other military units on the post.

©2019 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.)

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