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Run for the Fallen honors California military

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Posted: Saturday, September 29, 2012 6:56 pm | Updated: 6:34 am, Tue Oct 2, 2012.

It's a tribute of sweat and pounding feet, counting out the miles and honoring the memories of California's military men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

The organizers of the first annual Run for the Fallen selected an unseasonably warm weekend for a grueling trek through the Central Valley. But these runners are used to completing a mission in unfavorable conditions. Each runner is an active duty member of the military. Most of the 30 runners are stationed at Travis Air Force Base.

Their task? To place a flag on the route commemorating each California military man or woman who has passed since serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation New Dawn. Most were killed in the line of duty, but Run for the Fallen honors any veteran of these conflicts who has passed away.

"We're not about drawing lines. We're about honoring families," said Ron Trucott, co-director of the race.

It's a 150-mile journey over three days. The run began with 10 miles on Friday night in Elk Grove. The next leg began Saturday morning in Elk Grove and would continue 75 miles until just outside of Tracy. On Sunday, the runners finished the remaining 65 miles to end at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon.

Small teams of two or three runners tackled 6-mile sections at a time, carrying an American flag and California's state flag as they went. Police, motorcycles and volunteers escorted the runners to keep them on track and keep traffic out of the way.

The run began in 2008, when a dedicated team of runners spent 10 weeks crossing the country to stop every mile and place a flag remembering every death in Operation Enduring Freedom. Since then, the national run has gained support and statewide runs have cropped up in New Jersey, Arkansas and California.

Race organizers keep a database of every fallen California service member, and will continue to add names to the list as long as the conflicts continue.

"We're overwhelmed at the support, " said Trucott. "We were able to get the word out really quickly to a lot of families."

It's a time for active duty military personnel to acknowledge their fallen brothers and sisters, and to let their families know they are not forgotten.

Each mile is run in honor of two soldiers, Marines, airmen or sailors named on the pair of flags placed at every stop.

There are 718 flags total. Three hundred will be placed in pairs along the route. The rest will be placed at the cemetery.

Race organizers plan to extend the run in the future to span 718 miles, long enough to run a mile for every fallen serviceman and woman from California.

The run is orchestrated down to the minute so military families can meet up with the runners when their fallen loved one's flag is placed.

Greg and Lori Coumas waited with friends and family at Hero Marker No. 33 on Stockton Street in Lodi for the runners to plant a flag commemorating their son, Kyle Coumas. Coumas was 22 when he was killed in 2009 while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. He was an Army specialist based in Ft. Lewis, Wash., but grew up in Lockeford and attended St. Mary's High School in Stockton before enlisting.

Many people standing with the Coumases, including Kyle Coumas' childhood friends Nicholas Lounds, Joe Gonzales and Larry Gonzales, were present for the ceremony. Lounds was in an adjoining Stryker vehicle when Coumas was killed, Greg Coumas said.

Both parents took comfort in spending time with the people who stood with their son in his final days and knew exactly what he was going through.

"These guys are amazing," said Greg Coumas. "They've made a horrible, tragic thing much easier to deal with."

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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