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Family and loved ones of deployed soldiers 'Walk to Afghanistan' to show support

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Sweat pouring down faces and heart beats racing. Bright colored signs and smiling faces. Children running around with dogs following closely behind. Laughter, hugs, and smiles can be heard from far away. This is a site all too common at the "Walk to Afghanistan" events hosted by the 864th Engineer Battalion Family Readiness Group.

The "Walk to Afghanistan" is a friendly competition between each company within the 864th Engineer Battalion to see which company can earn the most miles before the battalion reaches its total goal of 14,000 miles in support of the 864th Engineer Battalion soldiers who are currently deployed to the Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Miles are earned through multiple routes to include, but are not limited to, walking, jogging, running, biking, hiking, swimming, and stroller pushing.

When asked where the idea for "Walk to Afghanistan" originated and why she decided to start the program for the 864th Engineer Battalion, Amy Henderson, senior adviser to the 864th Engineer Battalion Family Readiness Group responded with the following:

"The first time I heard about Walk to Afghanistan (or Iraq) was during the time we lived in Hawaii. The Walk to Afghanistan is a great way for us to keep motivated, have some competition between companies, and provide a healthy way for our families to deal with the stress of deployment."

Logging miles is not limited to those living in the Joint Base Lewis McChord area, home station to the 864th Engineer Battalion. In fact, anyone can participate in the "Walk to Afghanistan", regardless of where they are living. Submissions for logging miles are coordinated through the "Walk to Afghanistan" Facebook page, or the soldier's FRG leader. Participants simply message the "Walk to Afghanistan" Facebook page or the soldier's FRG leader to submit the number of miles they wish to log.

Miles are being logged from participants in all corners of the United States in multiple different fashions. Loved ones are running in multiple races from Clarkesville, Ga. to Joint Base Lewis McChord, to Waynesville, Mo. The Magna Vista Girls Track Team from Henry County, Va., is logging miles at each of its practices. One supporter even braved the bitter cold to run a Half Fast 10K near St. Paul, Minn. even though the temperature at the start of the race was a balmy three degrees.

"We have a whole lot of love for our soldiers! --We are getting a tremendous amount of support from family and friends all over the U.S. So often we hear family members ask ‘what can we do?' Soldiers always appreciate mail, but giving our soldiers support and encouragement is just as important. Many of our families are posting pictures of the soldier they are running or walking for. How great to know a whole community, a track team, grandparents, parents, are all walking and logging their miles to support our great soldiers." says Henderson.

Pictures on the "Walk to Afghanistan" Facebook page are consistently showing families walking or hiking together, children logging miles on bikes, or a group of friends bonding together in gyms across the United States.

The "Walk to Afghanistan" is not only a group simply connected through the interwebs of Facebook. The 864th Engineer Battalion FRG leaders host an event every month for supporters and loved ones living in the area of Joint Base Lewis McChord to get together and walk or run in the battalion work area. At each event, loved ones and supporters show up carrying signs covered in well wishes for their deployed soldiers, the soldier's name whom they are supporting, and the soldier's company.

With regards to the Walk to Afghanistan events at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Henderson said that "There is a lot of team building at these events and socializing! The great thing about the Walk to Afghanistan events is that anyone can come out and walk around our 'Able' Field. This event is geared to everyone. We have balls and jump ropes and outdoor games set up in the middle of Able Field so the children can play while the parents walk the loop and still keep an eye on the children. It takes us five laps to make a mile."

The FRG leaders have hosted two successful events since the "Walk to Afghanistan" group was founded in the beginning of February, the same time the battalion deployed to Afghanistan. The first event, which took place on Feb. 17, was entitled "Walk to Afghanistan-Kickoff Event." Many families showed up with signs in one hand and dog leashes in the other hand. A cake was made to commemorate the kick-off event, which started with each able body to execute ten, military standard push-ups. At the end of the event, a total of 201 miles were logged.

The second event took place on March 17 to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. A week prior to the event and four weeks after the kickoff event, the "Walk to Afghanistan" had a total number of 3,367.61 miles logged towards the goal of 14,000 miles. After the success of the St. Patrick's Day event, the total was raised to 6,675.41 miles. The spirit of Saint Patrick's Day was beaming out of the participants as many of them arrived clothed in green clothing with shamrocks sprouting from every article of clothing.
The United Service Organization supported the "Walk to Afghanistan" on March 17 by providing grilled food and water for each participant.

"The USO is truly amazing and so supportive of our soldiers and families," said Henderson of the United Service Organization's support.

The 864th Engineer Battalion soldier's family and friends have truly shown their support and love for their soldiers. As of March 25, the "Walk to Afghanistan" has logged a total number of 10,765.8 miles.

The next event, entitled "Spring Fling Walk to Afghanistan", will take place on April 13 at the 864th Engineer Battalion work area. For more information on how to participate in the event or how to participate in the "Walk to Afghanistan" group, check out the "Pacemakers-Walk to Afghanistan" Facebook page.

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