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Some 600 runners hit the road to honor heroes
Proceeds from Hoschton event to benefit soldiers' families
Runners endured a rainy and windy race at the inaugural Fallen Heroes of Georgia race held Saturday in Hoschton. The race was held to honor the 145 Georgia troops who have lost their lives in the U.S. conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan. - photo by KATIE DUNN

HOSCHTON — Runners braved wet and windy weather Saturday morning for the inaugural Fallen Heroes of Georgia race, held at the Reunion Golf Community subdivision.

An estimated 600 runners faced a steady downpour as they ran the 1 kilometer and three- and six-mile races in honor of the 145 Georgia soldiers who have died in U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since both conflicts began, nearly 5,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives.

Braselton resident Caitlin Lankford, 22, and Suwanee resident Shannon Jaspers, 21, both thought running the race was a fitting tribute to these soldiers.

"We wanted to come out and support everyone," said Lankford.

Jaspers added: "It's a good way to show your support for the families that have lost family over there."

Signs lined the race course bearing the name, rank, military branch, hometown, age and date of death for the 145 Georgia troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 60 family members of these service personnel attended the event, some volunteering or manning their loved one's sign and others running the race.

Race organizer Steve Durling's voice broke as he told runners he hoped the signs brought tears to their eyes as they wound their way through the neighborhood streets and passed the small memorials attached to residents' mailboxes.

Each soldier, he said, is not another nameless statistic, but an individual whose family continues to struggle with their death every day.

"There's incredible grief for days and weeks and months and years," he said. "Understand that."

One family member became so emotional during the race that she stood and rested her head on one of the signs, staring at the soldier's name with tears in her eyes.

Reunion residents also cheered on runners and adorned their house fronts with American flags.

Operation One Voice and Reunion's homeowners association sponsored the event.

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 race will go to help soldiers' families.

Several military groups also attended the event, including soldiers from the 48th and 148th Army units, the Georgia Defense Force, National Guard soldiers, The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Marine Corp League.

In his prerace prayer, Ken Farris of Hamilton Mill Christian Church, summarized the importance of remembering these troops.

"All of them (soldiers) have made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives in defense of the freedom and liberty we enjoy today," he said. "God bless their families who have sacrificed more than we can imagine."

"Your loved ones, our nation's finest, they represent what is good and decent about America and we commit to you today: they will not be forgotten."

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