US soldier Mike Baskin–a senior member of the AYF NJ "Arsen" Chapter–won Afghanistan’s first marathon on December 12. The AYF–along with the rest of the country–is proud both of Mike’s accomplishment and duty to his country.
TIRIN KOT–Afghanistan (AP)–A US soldier won Afghanistan’s first marathon on December 12–battling the country’s thin mountain air for more than three hours before crossing the finish line–where he promptly burst into tears remembering four comrades killed in recent fighting.
A total of 184 soldiers and civilians working for the US military took part in the race at Firebase Ripley–a remote camp near Tirin Kot in central Uruzgan province–facing high altitude and a bumpy track as well as the threat of attack.
Plastic palm trees among the gun stores and bunkers near the course lightened the mood for the runners–who the Afghan National Olympic Committee said were competing in the first marathon in the war-ravaged country’s history.
But the darker side of their mission resurfaced as the winner labored across the finish line after five long laps of the airstrip to cheers and handshakes in 3 hours–12 minutes and 15 seconds–an impressive time for the conditions.
"I just thought about those four guys when I crossed–that they won’t be going home with us–and it kind of hit me," 1st Lt. Mike Baskin–a native of Santiago–California–told an Associated Press reporter.
The race–which ended nearly three hours before 20,000 people began the Honolulu marathon–was the idea of members of the US Army’s 2nd Battalion–5th Infantry Regiment–based at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii–who didn’t want to miss out on the competition.
The unit–part of the 25th Infantry Division–is operating in one of Afghanistan’s most hostile areas. It suffered its latest casualties when a bomb ripped through a patrol near Deh Rawood–another town in Uruzgan–on Nov. 24–killing two soldiers. A similar attack killed two other soldiers in October.
Helicopters flew troops in from across Afghanistan for the race. Before the start–the assembled runners cheered as two military jets thundered low over the base–which lies 4,500 feet above sea level–and into the surrounding mountains.
The competitors–shorn of their guns and flak jackets–toiled around the circuit in shorts and T-shirts under cloudy skies and in temperatures of about 13 Celsius (55 Fahrenheit).
Some of the course was gravel–but most was covered by fine dust that a rare overnight shower had turned to mud in patches. Its single hill was dubbed Diamond Head for the Honolulu landmark–an extinct volcano.
The first woman to finish was Spc. Jill Stevens–a 21-year-old from Utah–whose helicopter battalion is deployed at Bagram Air Base near Kabul.
All 153 finishers were presented with the same medals–certificates and black sponsored T-shirts as their Honolulu counterparts–and their times are to be recorded and listed in the same booklet.