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Wear Blue – Run to Remember honors fallen heroes of Iraq, Afghanistan wars

Saturday, February 01, 2014

One of the 26 miles covered by the giant Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., is very different than the rest.

For many who take part in or watch the event, nothing is as moving as the Wear Blue Mile. This is mile 13, where the 30,000 or so runners pass posters showing the names and faces of hundreds of men and women who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mile 13 is also lined with hundreds of family members, friends, service members, and others silently displaying large American flags bearing black streamers with the names of the fallen. Some runners are left in tears.

The mile is organized by Wear Blue–Run to Remember, an all-volunteer outfit started four years ago by two Army wives, Lisa Hallett and Erin O’Connor, at Fort Lewis, Wash., to honor the fallen in the nation’s two recent wars. Hallett had just lost her husband, Capt. John Hallett, in Afghanistan.

Wear Blue’s estimated 5,000 members wear shirts with a wide footprint on the back inscribed "For the Fallen, for the Fighting, for the Family."

Many members also imprint the names of particular deceased service members.

Since its founding, Wear Blue has continued to spread in both the military and civilian communities, with chapters at Fort Bragg, Redstone Arsenal, and Joint Base Lewis McChord, and informal "meet-ups" have begun at 20 to 30 other Army installations.

Part of what Wear Blue does, explains Hallett, is "challenge people to run distances and speeds further and faster than they thought possible.

For some people, that challenge starts at three miles, and for others that means tackling their first double marathon!"

When AUSA’s Family Readiness director, Patty Barron, traveled to the Fort Lewis area in 2012, she was taken to a Wear Blue run and met Hallett. Barron was impressed and could relate to Hallett’s story, because she had lost her father suddenly at age five in an automobile accident.

Barron invited Hallett to speak at AUSA’s Annual Meeting that fall.

AUSA also sponsored Wear Blue’s participation at the Army Ten-Miler, enabling it to have a Hooah Tent and thereby increase its presence and people’s awareness of Wear Blue.

Barron calls Wear Blue "a celebration of life as well as a reminder of the fallen."

Wear Blue members flock each year to the Army Ten-Miler, the Marine Corps Marathon and the Seattle Rock ‘n Roll Marathon and Half-Marathon and thousands turn out for local Memorial Day runs.

But the heart of Wear Blue are the less glamorous training runs on Saturdays, always preceded by a circle of remembrance.

Runners gather and call out the names of every service member who died on that weekend since the wars began in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of the year, every soldier, marine, sailor, or airman who died in either war will have been remembered.

Runners can also call out and honor the name of friends or family from any era who died in a conflict.

For civilians looking beyond words like "Thank you for your service" to do something tangible for military families, Wear Blue offers an opportunity.

"There’s nothing quite as easy," says Hallett, "as joining a circle of remembrance, whether or not one wishes to run. "There is a message spoken, without words, when we stand in solidarity in the circle."

Every week, Wear Blue demonstrates it can draw different communities and different generations together.

On her Saturday mornings, Hallett says she and her three young children "stand side by side with active duty, with other Gold Star Families, with civilian members who support us … and then we run." Halfway through the three mile route near Fort Lewis everyone passes through Patriot’s Landing, a military retirement community, where every week people stand by small flags bearing the names of the fallen, cheer the runners, and hand out water.

Hallett recalls Wear Blue’s first dinner of remembrance a few years ago. A Vietnam Navy veteran came at the urging of his daughter. There, she told Hallett, he had encountered a Gold Star mother, someone who has lived with this loss. He didn’t know what to say.

Until then, coming back from Vietnam to an unfriendly reception had haunted him, but now he realized the worst thing was for someone not to come home at all. The next week he called his Vietnam buddies and arranged their first reunion in 20 or 30 years.

Once together, they set up a recording studio and each of them told his story of Vietnam. "It was" says Hallet "a safe place to let it all out. "

Anyone can join Wear Blue by joining a meet-up or a chapter and going on a run. At a simpler level, she says, "someone can get involved with Wear Blue by putting on a blue shirt and making their steps purposeful.

"Our service members have given all… it is powerful to take a moment, to pause, and to be grateful and then to live purposefully."

To learn more, visit www.wearblueruntoremember.org.