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Minnesota National Guard
Armed forces on foot

Kevin Pates | wwwDuluthNewsTribunecom

An American flag was draped in the open bay door of an airborne Black Hawk helicopter June 21 at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo

First Lieutenant Niels Gott of Stillwater, Minn, had requested the flyover to signal the start of a marathon and half-marathon for troops serving with the Minnesota National Guard's A Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry At 6 am, about 150 Soldiers started the course along the camp's outer perimeter for races of 131 or 262 miles as temperatures moved from the 70s to the 80s

The prize for finishing was a customized T-shirt provided by Grandma's Marathon, which was holding its own races the same day along the North Shore

Gott, 33, e-mailed Grandma's Marathon officials in February looking for a partnership

"We wanted to find a race in Minnesota to connect with and it was a great goal to work toward as we neared the end of our rotation in Kosovo It was the pinnacle of our time there," Gott said last week after the National Guard company returned to the United States "There were smiles all around, especially after everyone saw the T-shirts"

It was the second straight year Grandma's Marathon was sought as a sponsor and T-shirt supplier of a race by a deployed Minnesota Guard group The 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry based in Moorhead held a half-marathon at Camp Taqaddum in Iraq to coincide with the 2007 Grandma's Marathon and Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon Members of the Air Force, Marines and Navy also took part

Capt Steve Timm of Red Wing, a chaplain with the 136th, was an organizer of the Iraq half-marathon When he came to Duluth to run the 2008 Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon last month, he presented a commemorative plaque to the Grandma's staff

Photos of the run surround a Minnesota Army National Guard emblem, and are accompanied by the inscription: "Many thanks from Chaplain Steve Timm, Sgt First Class Kerry Buckle, and 2-136 Infantry Battalion"

There were tears all around, Grandma's Marathon executive director Scott Keenan said

"I wanted to thank the Grandma's folks personally and let them know how much our guys appreciated their help," said Timm, 35, pastor of United Lutheran Church in Red Wing, and now assigned to the 682nd Engineer Battalion in Willmar, Minn "Our tour had been extended at that time and we were all thinking, "˜We've been here 15 months and we should be home' There was a feeling you had nothing left in the tank

"We wanted to have a couple of hours to be part of a race and take our minds off the war It was more than just a run It gave us something to rally around and we made an event of it"

The Iraq race began at 5:15 am after a safety briefing to discuss possible mortar attacks The temperature at the finish was in the 90s as Timm completed the course in about 1 hour, 47 minutes, 20 seconds, which, amazingly, would be within one second of his time in the 2008 Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon

In each overseas event, a missed running opportunity led to a race

Duluth Soldiers Sgt Jon LaCore and Spc Steve Fosness planned to be in the 2006 Grandma's Marathon, but had their tours extended and missed the race They came up with the idea of the Iraq half-marathon and 250 Soldiers completed the course, which had portions flanked by barbed wire and offered one lone palm tree

Gott planned to run the 2007 Twin Cities Marathon in October, but instead was heading to Kosovo on a peacekeeping mission with the 135th Soldiers have the opportunity to participate in basketball, floor hockey, volleyball and softball in Kosovo, he said, but the marathon and half-marathon were particularly popular with about 150 entries, 25 in the marathon

His marathon training was at 5 am most days, making use of a five-mile loop at the camp and a Garmin Forerunner GPS personal trainer watch

"There was a low level of danger for the runners, but we did ask Soldiers from the battalion, from other countries [Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania] to act as our security element during the race," said Gott, who was on his second Kosovo tour "It was a clear, beautiful day and it was a real challenge for the runners I know my legs were sore afterward"

Gott, the company's signal officer, said he finished the marathon in about 4:49, while the marathon winner, William Haley, from Iowa, finished in 3:43:47 Second place finisher Jacek Schmidt, of the Polish Army, finished in 3:47:31 and Carlos Manuel Morais of the Portuguese Army, was third in 3:47:46

If finishing times from Kosovo are supplied, Grandma's Marathon plans to add them to their official 2008 results booklet, Keenan said

"In both years, we had Soldiers who had planned to run a marathon in the US, and couldn't, so we thought it was the least we could do to send them some shirts and lift their spirits," said Grandma's Marathon public relations director Bob Gustafson, who teamed with Laura Bergen, director of event and program development, to fulfill the National Guard requests

Three weeks later, the 400 troops with the 135th were back in Minnesota to units in West St Paul, Rochester, Alberta Lea, Austin and Mankato Welcome home celebrations were held Thursday The company had traveled more than 500,000 miles, completed more than 12,000 patrols, 1,500 vehicle checkpoints and nearly 80 air missions, and squeezed in two distance races

Article source: www.DuluthNewsTribune.com

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