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Service members compete in Marine Corps Marathon in Iraq

Sailors, Soldiers, a Marine and a British Royal Engineer came together for a joint, combined run of the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon Forward in Iraq on Oct. 22, 2017.

The deployed runners traveled from five locations to compete in the only official MCM Forward in Iraq.

The MCM Forward is an overseas version of the 42nd annual Marine Corps Marathon held in Washington, D.C. on the same day. The first MCM Forward was held in Iraq in 2006 and was started by Maj. Megan McClung, the first female United States Marine Corps officer killed in combat during the Iraq War. McClung was serving as a public affairs officer in Al Anbar Province, Iraq when she was killed. Marines in deployed locations continue to run the marathon in her memory.

A Soldier runs the Marine Corps Marathon Forward in Iraq, Oct. 22, 2017. (U.S. Navy/Cmdr. Paulo Hernandez)

Members of the Navy Expeditionary Medical Unit, comprised of medical units from 11 hospital commands throughout the U.S., organized and hosted the race.

“The Marine Corps Marathon fosters comradery and competition among service members, providing a healthy outlet to relieve stress and a goal to work towards on deployment,” said Lt. Cmdr. Benjay Kempner, the race organizer and an anesthesiologist for the EMU.

Kempner was registered for the Washington, D.C. race before he received orders to deploy. He contacted the MCM organizers and asked to run while abroad, and then inspired those around him to compete as well.

“The marathon became a milestone in the deployment,” said Kempner. “It motivated us to get out and run, even after long days, and was a date on the calendar to look forward to.”

A sign directs runners of the Marine Corps Marathon Forward in Iraq, Oct. 22, 2017. (U.S. Navy/Cmdr. Paulo Hernandez)

Some of the runners had never run long distance before and were excited to take on a new challenge.

“It was something that I always wanted to do in life, but didn’t give myself enough credit that I would be able to do. A friend asked me to do the training runs with her, and we overcame some tough days together,” said Lt. j.g. Thomas Bolsega, a first-time marathoner and an intensive care unit nurse. “It was good to accomplish something meaningful.”

The location and the austere desert environment made for a memorable race.

“This is a unique accomplishment in a combat environment. If I only do one marathon in my lifetime, this one was worthy of my efforts. It felt good,” said Bolsega.

The EMU is currently deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, providing casualty resuscitation and surgical intervention to Coalition service members and Iraqi Security Forces as they fight to defeat ISIS in Iraq.