BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — It didn’t matter that they were half a globe away. Nine Mainers deployed in Afghanistan with the Maine Army Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion laced up their running shoes Friday and took off on a 26.2-mile run in honor of the Boston Marathon and last year’s tragedy.
The Boston Shadow Marathon is a tradition started by deployed soldiers in 2005 and is supported by the Boston Athletics Association which provided T-shirts, banners and participation certificates.
“It’s an honor for all of us,” company commander Capt. Adam Cote said in a video posted on the Defense Videos & Imagery System the day before the group ran the marathon. “It’s an honor … especially because we are so close to Boston, to be able to honor all those folks over there and what they went through last year. It means a lot to us to be able to be serving over here in Afghanistan and also to be able to do this run.”
Shown in the video with Cote are Sgt. 1st Class Michael Mowry, of Greene; Staff Sgt. Ryan Estes, of Madison; Sgt. Ricky Sturgis Jr., of Lewiston; Sgt. Jessica Kurka and Sgt. Robert Kurka, of Durham; Staff Sgt. Mary Quirion, of Gardiner; Sgt. Cherish DeBault, of Waterville; and Sgt. Lucas Bayne, of Oakland.
When introduced or at the end of the video, each took a second to send home love to those in Maine, naming children, spouses, parents and friends and a couple ended by saying, “I love you guys.”
The first marathon runner in Afghanistan crossed the finish line Friday with a time of 2:39:10 and Sturgis was the first from the Maine group with a time of 3:08:40. Cote’s time was 4:15:46.
Thousands of U.S. armed forces personnel stationed overseas have participated in “shadow” versions of the Boston Marathon on or around Patriots’ Day. The shadow marathons have taken place in Iraq, Afghanistan, or on a ship at sea, since being started by Lt. Col. Rodney Freeman in 2005, according to Maj. Josh Jacques, deputy public information officer for the 10th Mountain Division who grew up in Augusta, graduated Cony High School in 1997 and from the University of Maine in 2002.
The 10th Mountain Division, currently in charge of Regional Command-East, hosted the last official Boston Marathon Shadow Run, held as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Jacques said in an email. The number of runners was limited to the first 600 people who signed up, he said.
The marathon team is part of the 167 Maine soldiers currently deployed overseas as part of three units — Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Forward Support Company and 1035th Survey and Design Team — that all fall under the Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion based in Gardiner, Maj. Michael Steinbuchel, spokesman for the Maine Army National Guard, said Monday.
The 133rd, which left on its third overseas deployment in August 2013, is in Afghanistan working to downsize and consolidate the bases there as the United States prepares to withdraw its remaining military forces from the country.
Mowry said in the video that he’s never run “that great of a distance” but was undertaking the marathon this year in honor of the fallen and injured during last year’s bombing and its fallout. His time was 5:04:02.
“A lot of us here know people, or know people who know people that were victims that day and it’s just going to be a total true honor to honor those folks that suffered such a tragic moment in their lives that day,” Mowry said prior to the event. “Even though it’s going to be tough on us, we’re going to gut through it with our hearts.
“It’s really truly an honor.”