One foot in front of the other is her only way to get through days without end, nights dark with loneliness. For this young military widow, her constant companion on this trail of tears was a broken heart wet with grief.
Thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb had exploded on August 25, 2009, shattering Lisa Hallett’s world.
“Excuse me,” the colonel had said quietly, the tap on her shoulder interrupting Lisa’s carefree moment at the U.S. Army’s Point of Contact dinner, her first since the baby had been born. “I need to talk with you,” his words benign.
Quickly, Lisa rose from the table to step away for a side conversation. Only when he spoke again did a whisper of worry add its voice to the social gathering.
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“You’ll need to bring your things, Lisa,” the officer in dress uniform told her, his hand reaching to help.
Gathering her two-week old daughter, diaper bag and infant seat, the slender blonde matched his steps as they walked.
“Tell me John is O.K!” her fear insistent in the evening air, the face of the colonel unreadable in the fading light.
Then the conference room doors swung open, her long-awaited answer in the eyes of two men in the official green Army attire, a white sheet of paper in their hands.
“We believe Captain John Hallett was killed when his Stryker was ... ” their words lost in the pounding of Lisa’s heart.
“It was so surreal,” the now 30-something mother of three remembers. “This couldn’t be my story. John had a baby he’d never met.”
But it was real even though Lisa clung to the word “believe,” hoping the report of her husband’s death could be a mistake. A next day telephone call came from the military.
“General Mathis called me,” Lisa vividly remembers the scene as she sat weeping on the stairway near a collage of John’s pictures with 3-year-old Jackson and Bryce, soon to be two, “and I reminded him the Army only believed that John had been killed. He said, ‘yes, but we do know. I’m sorry, Lisa.’”
It was final. Her forever friend, husband and father of their three small children was gone.
“When John died I lost the bookends of my life,” Lisa says with a catch in her voice, recalling how she had looked forward to his phone calls, his kiss when he came through the door, or his welcome hugs upon return from deployment. “Every day was (now) the same, it all blurred together.”
Until she began to run on Saturday ...
Donning John’s royal blue physical training shirt, she began to jog, often with her friend Erin O’Connor, who promised to help Lisa “run” through her journey of grief. Soon other wives joined the widow for the early morning run.
Little did the group know then, but before the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Ft. Lewis, Wash., finished its yearlong deployment, 41 soldiers would be lost in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Twenty-three of those casualties would be from John’s 1-17 Infantry Battalion.
Those Fallen Heroes are more than just a statistic to the wear blue: run to remember runners who gather at the flag pole each Saturday morning in a sea of blue attire. Official shirts display the names of the 41 soldiers.
“We always start with the circle of remembrance and prayer,” Lisa says as she reflects on the living memorial. “Each person receives a slip of paper with the name of a Fallen Hero in the ‘War on Terror’ or they call out their loved one.”
Then the running begins on a family friendly three-mile course, a 10-mile and 18-mile marked by volunteers holding a U.S. flag, the name of a soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice displayed on each one.
This same Saturday scene now repeats across the nation at other military bases — a vision “wear blue: run to remember” CEO Lisa and COO Erin shared together for the non-profit and all volunteer organization.
“It’s grown so much,” Lisa marvels about the countless community and military people who come together in remembrance, some sharing stories about their lost loved one. “When the children and I do our Saturday morning with their daddy’s name on the back, they know they’re surrounded by a community that knows him and understands.”
Many footsteps — and sometimes tears — mingle along the marked path where Lisa and her little ones remember proudly the man who lived, loved and served his country.
On their deep blue shirts is a runner’s footprint. The name CPT John Hallett is their heart-print.