By HMCS Bob Asztalos
5/14 Marines, Detentions Company
February 11 was the Camp Falluja 10K Perimeter and Mortar run which I had the opportunity to complete in 42:59. It was a beautiful day for a run in Iraq but it has not always been like that. In fact running in a war zone has its challenges.
Several months ago, I was called up for duty in support of the Marines in Ramadi. As I was quick to find out this was ground zero in the war. My unit of Navy medical personnel flew into a large airbase in Iraq. Our convoy that was supposed to take us across the country was stalled due to IEDs. We flew out by helo then piled in the back of a truck, once arriving in Ramadi, to take us to our assigned area. The first night, as we slept in our tent, we awoke to the sound of shelling. As we waited for it to subside I made my way down a list of things to wonder about. After moving past “how did I get myself in this mess?” I got to “how am I ever going to keep my running up out here?”
Early on it was not easy. Thinking that it would be safer to run in the dark, me and a couple others ran before dawn. The occasional mortar round or distant IED reminded us to do it without flashlights. The problem is that the roads on the base are gravel or packed dirt and full of crater holes. Falling down was part of the run. That first month, the base held a 10K run. Partway through it, we took incoming fire and most of the runners scattered. The race dissolved.
After a few weeks the base became more secure. We were able to run in daylight and we even held regular runs once a month. Since I worked 24 hours on and 24 off 7 days a week, I ran 4 ½ miles every other day. Running in daylight made it much more pleasurable then those early morning jaunts but it still had hazards. Occasionally our perimeter came under fire and you had to worry about stray rounds. I would run past our artillery and the boom from our howitzers followed by the rushing sound of a shell soaring over your head takes some getting use too. Lastly, the mortars still come in. One day, a soldier doing a noontime jog caught some shrapnel from a mortar. Fortunately, his wounds were minor.
Not too long ago I transferred to Camp Falluja. Because we are not next to the town, it is a safer environment on the base. The roads are smooth, almost like those back in Tallahassee and the base has several miles of them. You have to get use to kicked up sand from the tanks or convoys rolling by you and there is still the occasional mortar but it is a place where you can get out on the road and let your mind wander on a nice long run. Next week is an 8 mile event then the week after we have our Camp Falluja ½ Marathon.
I guess with running if there is a will there is a way.