Story by Michael Strasser on 09/16/2019FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 16, 2019) -- As the old Army cadence goes, "One mile, no sweat. Two miles, better yet. Three miles, gotta run. Four miles, just for fun."
But what about 11 miles?
More than 500 community members went that distance Sept. 14 during the 2nd annual Memorial to Monument Run, with an additional 200-plus participating in a 5K Run/Walk.
The 11-mile course started at Memorial Park, across from the 10th Mountain Division (LI) headquarters on post, and continued along the Black River Trail to Thompson Park.
One would be hard-pressed to find another 11-mile road race anywhere else in the country, and event organizers said that it was the safest, most direct route from Memorial Park to Thompson Park.
"It's definitely unique," said Jennifer Berry, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation special events coordinator. "But we are so happy with the turnout we had another 200 people register just this morning."
Berry said that running from the Military Mountaineers Monument located on post to the Honor the Mountain monument in the city of Watertown is symbolic of the connection the military community has with its North Country neighbors.
"This was all about building on that cohesion, the partnerships we share with local community members," she said. "We are here to support the community, and the community supports us, so this was a great event to showcase that and cheer each other on."
The course was slightly altered this year to pass by the home of Robert Huni, a Korean War veteran and lifelong Black River resident. He wasn't able to watch his daughter, Mary Ryan, run the inaugural event last year, but both were later invited on post for a special tour.
Ryan, a member of the Syracuse chapter of Team Red, White and Blue, said that her father was always supportive of her running, and that he was looking forward to cheering her on. Sadly, Huni, 89, died in June. Runners were able to honor him by planting American flags on the lawn outside his home.
"This meant everything to me," Ryan said. "I was really hoping Dad would have been alive to see this. He was so honored. For the race organizers to change the course to run by the home and recognize his connection to the community and to the Army, it just truly meant everything to myself and our family."
After crossing the finish line, runners joined the party at Thompson Park, with music by the 10th Mountain Division Band, a demonstration by American Kang Duk Won Karate students, concessions and a military static display. In addition to sponsoring the 5K, the Watertown Family YMCA organized a youth ninja obstacle course.
It was no surprise that the top finisher was a member of the Fort Drum Army Ten-Miler Team. Capt. Japheth Ngojoy, assigned to C Company, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, completed the course in 1:03:04, but other team members weren't far behind.
"This is a guy who told me he was just pacing himself at a 5:20 mile for the first eight miles, but then took it easy after that," Maj. Gen. Brian J. Mennes, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander, told the crowd at the award presentation.
Ngojoy said that the idea was to practice race pace for several miles and concentrate on running form.
"This was a good practice run for myself and other Ten-Miler team members," he said. "The support out there on the route was phenomenal. This is a great race, and a great weekend to come out here together with the Watertown community and the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum."
Ngojoy and 17 other Soldiers will represent the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum at the Army Ten-Miler on Oct. 13 in Washington, D.C.
Jennifer Geracitano placed first among female participants with a time of 1:17:21.
"I think the course was really pretty, and it's a nice snapshot of upstate New York," she said. "It's nice to see all the military come together with surrounding community members, and seeing how supportive they are of the military."
Training for an October marathon, Geracitano said she felt good about running a competitive pace. While her plan was to run alongside her husband, Maj. John Geracitano, that didn't happen.
"I managed to stay about five minutes behind her," he said. "I knew she was running really well, so I didn't even try to keep up with her."
Geracitano said that they are motivated to run charity miles for their son, who has a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).
"All our miles we run for the Children's Tumor Foundation," she said.
Shannan Thompson, a 16-year-old runner from Carthage, won the youth division with a time of 1:29:33. Awards also were presented by Watertown Mayor Joe Butler to the top finishers in the 5K run.
Diane Covell, a Fort Drum Public Works manager, can often be seen running in local races or walking the Black River Trail with her husband.
"I'm a Department of Defense civilian, and it's important to me that I support our Soldiers," she said. "That's why I ran today."
This is her second year running the M2M, and Covell said that she finished nearly 20 minutes faster than before.
It was the first M2M for some 10th Mountain Division Artillery Soldiers, who started the event together but decided to run at their own pace. They all met afterward for a group photo at the Honor the Mountain monument. Spc. Peters Latrell took on the challenge despite not having run any long distances since he completed advanced individual training.
He said that he felt pretty accomplished once he saw the 10-mile marker. Then the route went uphill.
"That last hill, though, was a killer," he said. "No one told me about that hill. I ran most of it."
Spc. Gabrielle Wright said her only running experience comes from Army physical training, and that she probably never ran more than six miles before.
"It was hard, honestly, but it was nice having people out there cheering us on," she said. "I had to motivate myself to keep running, because I couldn't let them see me walking."