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Honor our fallen heroes by running

Race set to raise funds, support for service families

POSTED: March 8, 2009 12:21 a.m.

HOSCHTON — Since fighting began in Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 5,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives, 144 from Georgia.

These soldiers’ hometowns ranged from Winder to Ellijay to Valdosta, their ages from 19 to 57. Yet one thing they had in common was that each made the ultimate sacrifice to protect this country.

In honor of their sacrifice, Hall County fireman Steve Durling has organized the inaugural Fallen Heroes of Georgia run, set for March 28 at the Reunion Golf Community Subdivision in Hoschton.

The race will include one-, three- and six-mile runs, with the six-miler a 2010 Peachtree Road Race qualifier.

The subdivision’s homeowners association and Operation One Voice are sponsoring the event.

Carrie Neville, Reunion’s activities director, said the subdivision agreed to hold the race because it was for "such a great cause."

Operation One Voice, a nonprofit organization made of police, firefighters and community leaders, helps raise money and awareness for families of wounded or fallen special operation forces, according to its Web site.

Special Operation Forces include the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Naval Special Warfare Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Marine Force Special Operations Command and Joint Special Operation Command.

Money generated from the upcoming race will go to help soldiers’ families.

"The biggest thing we do is work with special operations command’s care coalition," said Durling, a volunteer with the organization.

This includes helping families pay for their children’s education, installing a wheelchair ramp or buying a bicycle for an injured soldier. The group buys about 15 bikes annually for servicemen and servicewomen, according to Durling.

"It’s a quality of life type of thing where they might have enjoyed riding bikes and they (now) have a prosthesis," he said.

The bike helps with the soldiers’ healing process, Durling said. "It’s a big mental thing for them. And it helps them get back on their feet again."

Signs also will line the race course listing the name, rank, military branch, hometown, age and date of death for the 144 Georgia troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Family members of some of these service personnel will stand with their loved one’s sign during the race, Durling says.

"What these folks go through ... it’s not just the fallen soldiers, it’s the families that go through so much," he said.

Several military units and members of the Patriot Guard of Georgia will also attend the event. The motorcycle organization attends funerals of fallen soldiers to show respect for the soldiers, their families and communities and to protect the families from protesters, according to its Web site.

Reunion will have free food and drinks and will celebrate the opening of its new sales center.

Durling said he hopes the race will help participants better appreciate the sacrifice the country’s military servicemen and servicewomen make to protect their country every day.

"I think people should have the opportunity to see that your day is not bad if your iPod is not working or you’re stuck in traffic," he said. "You’ve got to put things into perspective, and I think this may be a good way to do it."

Participants will receive a T-shirt listing the names and ranks of each of the fallen soldiers. Awards will be given to the overall female and male winners and the top three female and male winners in each age group. Medals or ribbons will be given to the first 100 finishers in the fun run who are 12 or younger.

For more information on the race or Operation One Voice, call Steve Durling at 678-794-6135 or e-mail stephendurling@yahoo.com.



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