It’s been seven years since 48 servicemen in the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marines Regiment lost their lives in Iraq, but their fellow servicemen are dutifully keeping the memories of their fallen brothers alive.
Staff Sgt. Oscar Aguilera of the battalion’s weapons company, who grew up in Greenport, is coordinating the third annual Memorial 100-Mile Relay in honor of those soldiers. It begins in Orient on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend en route to the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan.
Over the course of two days, and 24 hours on the road, 25 to 30 relay runners will spell each other on a route leading from the Orient ferry dock, through Greenport Village, down the entire stretch of Route 48 (in honor of the 48 fallen soldiers) and then west on Route 25 to New York City.
“All branches of the military are running — Navy, Army, Air Force and the Marine Corps, of course, are represented,” said Staff Sgt. Aguilera. The run is being held to “interrupt” the holiday weekend and remind those along the runners’ route of the reason for Memorial Day, he said.
For the past two years the relay route stretched from Richmond, Va., home of one of the event’s organizers, to the Iwo Jima Memorial outside Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place of four of the battalion’s soldiers who fell in 2005.
This year, his first as event organizer, Staff Sgt. Aguilera decided to bring it home to Long Island to also honor first responders who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I have not been to ground zero since 9/11. I made a promise to myself not to go there unless it was a meaningful event,” he said. With the permission of Sgt. Nathan Hoffman, Staff Sgt. Kyle Ferkett and Lance Cpl. Joseph Shear, who originally organized the run, he’s enlisted members of the New York City police and fire departments and the Nassau and Suffolk police departments as both escorts and runners.
They’re raising money for Hope for the Warriors, an organization based at Camp Lejune in North Carolina that assists soldiers returning from war and their families.
“Since 2006, they’ve been working for the immediate needs of military members coming back from overseas,” said Staff Sgt. Aguilera. “It’s a family-oriented organization that focuses on families’ needs.”
On Friday, May 25, the Southold Fire Department will host a free-will donation pasta dinner for Hope for the Warriors at the firehouse from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Chrystyna Kestler, mother of Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, who died in Afghanistan in 2010, will be the keynote speaker.
Then, at 8 a.m. Saturday, May 26, Staff Sgt. Aguilera will be one of the first two runners to leave Orient, holding high both the American and Hope for the Warriors flags.
To make a donation to the Memorial 100-Mile Relay, visit http://memorial100.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1012002.