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Aaron Bartal

Lincoln Park

Hero Story

The Running To Honor 5K was created in 2019 by Aaron Bartal and is a timed, family friendly walk (or run) focused on keeping the memory of our Fallen Soldiers & Veterans alive and reminding others that Freedom is never free.

Aaron's words from the Running To Honor Facebook page:
"The idea for Running To Honor started in January 2015. I had always wanted to do something for the 9 soldiers from my unit that were killed in action in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom 1 & 3. I decided that I was going to make an exact replica of my unit guidon (I will reference this as a flag so civilians know what I am talking about) with 9 streamers each with a Fallen Soldier's name on it. I planned to run one 5K race on Memorial Day carrying the flag with the sole purpose of raising awareness that Freedom is not free and that the Fallen Soldiers that we lost should not be forgotten. After running the Grosse Ile Memorial Day 5K in 2015, I received such positive feedback from other runners and spectators encouraging me to keep representing out Fallen.

I started to sign up for more and more races. I ran every distance from 5Ks to 26.2 mile marathons. By the end on 2015 I had ran in 62 races for a total of 359 miles plus over 800 additional miles on training runs.

Over the course of the next two years, I had several Veterans that I served with notify me that there were additional soldiers from our unit who were no longer with us. Some had deployed again with other units and were killed in action overseas in later deployments. Some came back from war and died way too young in tragic accidents. A few returned from war only to pass from cancer shortly there after, We will never know whether their cancer was caused by toxins they were exposed to during war (burn pits, depleted uranium etc). And then there are the ones who suffered from PTSD and TBI that just couldn't tolerate the physical and mental pain anymore and they chose to take their own life.

I was faced with a huge dilemma. Do I add streamers to the flag only for the soldiers that served in my unit at one time who were killed in action? What about those who died overseas due to accidents? Or the ones who were wounded by the enemy and temporarily survived but later passed from their injuries in the hospital? What about Command Sergeant Major Patrick Stanton? He served 29 years in the Army, deployed to Iraq 3 times, was exposed to depleted uranium in the Gulf War and passed from Sarcoma Cancer 4 days after retiring. Does he count? I mean he dedicated a life time of service to defending Freedom only to enjoy 4 days of retirement before he was taken by the silent killer…..Cancer. We can't forget about those who survived the war in Iraq but lost the battle to PTSD and ended up taking their own lives to end the physical and/or mental pain. Then there were the soldiers that I knew personally from high school who I did not serve with but were killed in action.

I wanted to make sure that whatever standard that I was about to create was fair, consistent and done with the best intentions of honoring those who are no longer here. I came to the conclusion that THEY ALL COUNT! If you served…..then you count! Between 2016 and 2017 if I found out that a soldier from my unit was no longer alive….I added a streamer to the flag for them. If I had some type of personal connection to a soldier that passed after returning from war….then I added them as well.
Unfortunately I cannot add a streamer for everyone. As time goes on, the Veterans I served with will naturally pass away. Since I self fund everything I do out of pocket the cost would be extremely high and the flag would be so heavy from streamers that it could not be carried.
Plus what happens when my time comes to leave this world? Is someone going to take over for me and carry the flag preserving what I started here? Probably not. This is where the idea to form a Non-Profit Organization came from. The Non-Profit is an independent entity that will continue to function keeping the memory of our Fallen alive long after I am gone. It will also give both businesses and individuals the ability to make tax deductible donations while supporting the organization.

What will the organization do? The primary goal of the organization is to host an annual Fallen Soldier 5K and Half Marathon so that we can keep the memory of all of those who served alive and raise awareness that Freedom Is Not Free.

The secondary goal of the organization is to provide Veterans and other Veteran organizations with the resources they need to take care of those who defended Freedom and now need help. This includes homeless Veterans, Veterans suffering from invisible wounds (PTSD/TBI) and preserving the memory of Veterans who are no longer here.

I can only hope that one day Veterans will be the best cared for and most widely recognized group of individuals in our country."

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