FORT LEE, Va. (June 16, 2016) -- Family, friends and military supporters gathered here Saturday for a 5K walk/run to show love, respect and appreciation to fallen heroes during the 6th annual Run for the Fallen, held at Williams Stadium.
Survivor Outreach Services hosted the annual run and gave out free event T-shirts to each participants adding an air of solidarity to the gathering.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to honor our fallen heroes and those that came before us, we should,” said Col. Paul K. Brooks, garrison commander, who gave opening remarks.
Brooks also thanked more than 100 Gold Star Family Members for joining the run and honoring more than 6,900 service members who have given their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also he said the run is to honor service members who have paid the ultimate price in every conflict throughout history.
The guest speaker was wounded warrior and retired Marine Capt. Jason Haag, now the American Humane Association’s National Director, Military Affairs. He served on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. His experiences with military life and loss have been a foundation to provide awareness to others and offer services to help with PTSD. He also works with service dogs.
During his speech, he said he wanted families to know the fallen did not give their lives for nothing.
“We need to push on and honor their sacrifice but there are still struggles at home, and we can do an awful lot for them.”
A first-time Run for the Fallen participant, Haag took much away from talking with the runners and the event.
“Today was emotionally draining,” he said. “I am extremely and deeply privileged to be here and the message still needs to get out to the people. Our families and warriors are still struggling with PTSD and traumatic brain injury. If the message doesn’t get out there are warriors who are going to fall to the wayside.”
One of the attendees, Amanda Souza, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Chris Souza, brought the family for her first time after she had lost her husband to PTSD in Iraq 10-and-half-month ago.
“This event is beautiful … but it is hard,” she said. “I am honored to be here, but don’t want to be here.”
After the run, Amanda passed out information to participants to express her dedication to her husband’s legacy. She started a non-profit foundation to assist veterans and service members in need and continue to bring awareness of the struggles veterans face after they return home.
In his third year of attendance, Duane Wittman of Chester lost his youngest son, Army Sgt. Aaron X. Wittman, in 2013 on his second tour in Afghanistan. Wittman said the run means a lot to him, and it gives him a chance to remember his son.
“Today gives us an opportunity to honor Aaron’s memory and everything he had accomplished in his life,” he said. “He was a very fine and wonderful young man.
“The day that he died, he was attached to a special forces unit. His unit was caught in a big ambush. His vehicle was the only one in the ambush and he took on everybody by himself until ultimately the whole team maneuvered to safety, and my son was killed. Everyone else survived. He was a hell of a great Soldier … trust me.”