From Donald D. Tolbert Jr. Lt. Col USMC (Retired), who ran with us on Day 7. Inspiring words from Don.
On Saturday, 21 June 2008, I had the privelage of running with Run for the Fallen. RFTF is a small group of dedicated civilians who are running over 4,000 miles across the United States in honor of each of our fallen service members from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The group began their quest on Flag Day 14 June at Fort Irwin, CA and will complete their run on 24 August at the Arlington National Cemetery. A small flag and name placard are placed in memory of a service member at each mile. www.runforthefallen.org
I was amazed to find out that there wasn’t a single military active duty service member or retiree on their team; civilians honoring our fallen. RFTF is a vision of one man, Jon Bellona, whose college roommate was killed in action – 1stLt. Michael J. Cleary. Jon joined forces with 1stLt Cleary’s fiancée Erin Kavanaghover and other friends to form RFTF, which consists of a team of 5-10 runners who will relay daily, 5-10 miles each, over the course of about 70 days, across 25 states.
The RFTF route brought them through Morongo Basin with Palm Springs Television and MCAGCC Observation Post coverage. I contacted RFTF and met them at 0430 at the Elementary School on Sunburst Road in Joshua Tree, CA. After introductions, the day began in solemn silence as I stood at attention as the names of each of the 65 fallen service members for this day were read. I was already chocked up in the pre-dawn darkness.
I joined Taylor Janes for mile one and headed South on Sunburst towards Route 62. Taylor also attended college with 1stLt Cleary and was moved to action by his sacrifice. Taylor and I placed a marker in honor of SSgt Daniel A. Bader on Route 62. I now headed East towards Twentynine Palms, CA for mile two as I accompanied another RFTF member. Shauna Sweet reminisced about a service member she met on an airplane over 4-years ago. She did not remember his name, but ran in his memory. She also attended the same college as 1stLt Cleary. At mile two we honored Sgt Ernest G. Bucklew.
I now ran solo, alone in my thoughts. I ran to honor my brothers and sisters in arms and thought of about their sacrifices. As I reflected, the miles became tearful as I thought of their families. I honored SPC Steven D. Conover, PFC Anthony D. Dagostino, and SPC Darius T Jennings. The sun was now shinning brightly as the desert warmed up. I honored PFC Karina S. Lau, Sgt Keelan L. Moss, SPC Brian H. Penisten, Sgt Ross A. Pennanen, and Sgt Joel Perez. Still running alone, I turned North on Lear Road and at the corner of Two Mile Road I was joined by five runners from the US Naval Hospital. We honored SPC Francis M. Vega. Now headed East on Two Mile, other runners joined us including CDR Ericson, and Denise Tennison pushing her 9-month old son Tristan in a runner’s stroller. Tristan would become the youngest American to participate in RFTF. We ran honoring SSgt Paul A. Velazquez and SSgt Joe N. Wilson. Nearing Adobe Road my miles of running had ended but I did not want to leave. The RFTF staff made room for me in one of their vehicles. We drove to the next mile and made preparations for the runners who now honored 1stLt Brian D. Slavens, and CWO Bruce A. Smith near Lucky Park. We then honored 2ndLt Benjamin J. Coogan on Utah Trail. RFTF turned East onto Amboy Road honoring other fallen as I said farewell.
Of the miles I have run over the years, none were more meaningful, tearful and fulfilling as the miles for our fallen.
God Speed! Donald D. Tolbert Jr. LtCol USMC (Retired) 21 June 2008