While Fort Lee’s annual Run for the Fallen was a virtual event this year due to COVID-19, it was no less engaging as hundreds of participants from as far away as Hawaii ran or walked 5k courses in honor of those lost while serving the nation.
“I believe our virtual run was the right choice due to the pandemic,” said Angela Bellamy, Survivor Outreach Services coordinator. “We had great attendance!”
SOS, which operates under Army Community Service, reported the Virtual RFTF event that took place on Saturday and Sunday reached 28,200 people on Facebook. As a result, a dedicated page logged 1,800 views with more than 700 responses from the Aloha State as well as California, North Dakota, Georgia, California and Maryland.
Participants viewing the dedicated page were directed to download bibs and encouraged to share their experiences via photos, videos and comments.
Messages on the site (and on related hashtags such as “FortLeeSOS”) came mostly from relatives but also from supporters like retired Sgt. Maj. Selena Long.
Her posted video implied service with the 3rd Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She dedicated a poignant message honoring “Dog-faced Soldiers,” Sgt. Franklin Vilorio, Staff Sgt. Jude Jonaus, Sgt. 1st Class Ramon AcedvedoAponte and Master Sgt. Thomas Wallsmith.
“ … Gone but never forgotten,” she said. “Love y’all. It’s the least I can do for you (who) did the ultimate sacrifice. Rest easy, my bros!”
“Dogface Soldier” is a popular nickname for service members assigned to the Fort Stewart, Ga.-based 3rd ID.
RFTF was originally scheduled for May, but like many other crowd-drawing-activities, was postponed for later this year in hopes the pandemic would subside. It did not, and a decision to make RFTF a virtual event was cemented in the summer, according to Bellamy.
The virtual event featured an introduction by Maj. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, and remarks by Robert Fitzgerald, a retired Soldier who lost his Marine son, 1st Lt. Almar L. Fitzgerald, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006.
“Regardless of the war, conflict, branch of service and method of death,” he said during remarks Saturday morning, “we run for them all, honoring their service and sacrifice, and remembering they gave up their future for ours.”
Run for the Fallen is known for the images of departed service members displayed along the running route, its sizable crowds – last year’s event drew 7,000 participants – and its ambiance of pride, reverence and graciousness.
When it was postponed earlier this year, the loss of some features created uncertainty, Bellamy explained. Much of that subsided when many would-be participants seemed even more determined to carry out the tribute.
“It was inspiring to see that our community and others across the nation did not let COVID stop them from honoring the fallen,” she said. “It is heartwarming to see how much our community remembers those who gave all to this country and how important Fort Lee’s Run for the Fallen has become to our team and Gold Star Families.”
Among the accoutrements of this year’s virtual event was the 900-plus images of the nations’ fallen featured along a 5K route on Fort Lee. The American Flag Memorial Wall, an exhibit sponsored by Veterans and Athletes United, was displayed at the ACS Memory Garden. The memorial is decorated in the shape of the U.S. Flag, adorned mostly with dog tags from those who died during the War on Terrorism. Bellamy said the memorial wall garnered many positive responses, and she hopes to bring it back next year.
Bellamy projected the next regularly scheduled RFTF will likely be complemented by a virtual event. “It is our hope that even when we go back to the normal run we decide to keep the virtual part for those who can’t attend,” she said.
Run for the Fallen marked its 10th anniversary this year. Bellamy and Christine Murphy – who comprise Survivor Outreach Services – are the principal organizers for the event along with other ACS and Family and MWR staff.
SOS offers long-term support services for families that have lost loved ones while serving in the armed forces.