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Sound to Narrows: A military run resurgence

Service members in the Super Squad division begin the annual Sound to Narrows military run Saturday in Tacoma. Participation at this year’s event doubled that of last year. Photos by Scott Hansen/JBLM PAO

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It's not every race that starts with an announcer asking squads to tighten up their formations - but it's a pretty standard way to kick off the Sound to Narrows Military Run each year.

This year's run marked a resurgence in numbers that organizers are hoping will become a trend.

"We're double what we were last year, and we want to double it again," Joint Base Lewis-McChord Intramural Sports Coordinator Kathy Salcedo said of this year's approximately 400 participants.

The annual 12K run is iconic in the South Sound. Every year since 1973, runners have worked their way around a course modeled after San Francisco's Bay to Breakers. The Military Run started only a few years later in 1979, allowing military units to form teams of various sizes and run the course in formation.

Super Squads of eight to 10 people, Standard Units of 20 to 40 and Mega Units of 40 or more, competed to see who could finish fastest within each group - but in order to place, a minimum number of team members must finish together.

In fact, that's why they do it.

"When you're on a team and you start to fall back, you have someone there to pick you up and help push you," 1st Lt. Kenny Coleman, who coached the 593rd Sustainment Brigade's teams, said.

His unit put a Standard Unit and several Super Squads into the race, but they all did their five weeks of training together. In the end it paid off - theirs was the first Standard Unit to cross the finish line.

The event used to be the type of bonding experience whole battalions did together every year. Salcedo remembers races with more than 3,000 runners in them before she went on a brief hiatus in 2002. When she returned a few years later, deployments had gone up and numbers had dwindled. Last year's race had about 200 military runners, and none in a group of more than 40.

This year, a single Mega Unit doubled the number of participants. Two hundred people from the 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade ran together - and the unit fielded a Super Squad as well.

The 1-377 FA's commander, Lt. Col. Charles Roede, remembers the days of thousands of runners from his first tour of what was then Fort Lewis 10 years ago. Now that he's back, he'd love to see a return to those numbers. He's also trying to find ways to make exercise fun for his unit.

"We're trying to institute a culture of fitness within the battalion," Roede said. "If we're not fit, we can't fight."

Even so, the experience goes far beyond staying in shape.

The Sound to Narrows course can be a tough one, with the last mile or so being an uphill run. But in the end, the weeks of practice and hard work show in more ways than one. The experience builds unit cohesion, that will still be there when it counts.

Just ask 1st Lt. Gregory Leak, who led the 1-377 FA's Super Squad to a first place finish.

"If you do something hard together, you really come together," he said.

Military Run results

Mega Units (40+) 1. 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade - 1:11:37

Standard Units (20 to 40) 1. 593rd Special Troops Battalion, 593rd Sustainment Brigade - 1:04:22

2. 308th Brigade Support Battalion, 17th Fires Bde. - 1:14:25
3. 542nd Support Maintenance Company, 13th Combat Support Battalion, 593rd Sust. Bde.- 1:31:29

Super Squads (8 to 10)

1. 1- 377 FA, 17th Fires Bde.- 0:54:04

2. 593rd STB, 593rd Sust. Bde, - 0:55:44

3. 23rd Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade - 0:57:32

All-female Super Squads (8 to 10)

1. 308th BSB, 17th Fires Bde. - 1:20:32

2. 593rd STB, 593rd Sust. Bde.- 1:37:49

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