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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 7, 2005

Military readying to run in Baghdad

 •  Send your best wishes to the marathon runners
 •  Last year's marathon: Afghan version was showcase for a different kind of sacrifice

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

For the second year in a row, the Honolulu Marathon will get an early send-off from a U.S. military installation abroad.

Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jim O'Donnell, a five-time Honolulu Marathon finisher, is organizing a Honolulu Marathon satellite race in Baghdad to begin at 5 a.m. Iraq time on Dec. 11 13 hours before the official start in Honolulu.

"My wife thought I was crazy just for running marathons," O'Donnell said during a phone interview from Baghdad. "Given the fact that I'm now organizing one over here, she thinks I'm certifiable."

Last year, Capt. Ivan Hurlburt, a battalion signal officer with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment "Bobcats" of the Hawai'i-based 25th Infantry Division (Light), organized a similar race at Forward Operating Base Ripley in remote Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. Nearly 200 military personnel and civilians participated in that race, won by 1st Lt. Mike Baskin. Baskin is expected to participate in this year's marathon in Honolulu.

O'Donnell, 47, said he has gotten advice and encouragement from Hurlburt, who likely will be in Iraq when the race is run.

O'Donnell was in Tampa waiting for a plane when he saw a CNN report about the Peachtree 10K, which had staged a satellite race in Iraq. He then recalled the Afghanistan marathon from last year and figured, "If they can do it in Afghanistan, we can do it in Iraq."

The Honolulu Marathon Association has sanctioned the race and, as it did in Afghanistan, will send a full complement of race numbers, volunteer and finisher T-shirts, medals, certificates and banners.

"There was good success with last year's race in Afghanistan and we feel this is a good way to support the troops and help them feel a little closer to Hawai'i," said Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal.

ChampionChip USA/Burns Computer Services is donating the computerized timing system to track results.

Participants will run two laps on a 13.1-mile course contained within the relative safety of adjoining bases Camp Victory and Camp Liberty.

O'Donnell is estimating that about 250 runners will take part in the event, which also will be open to Iraqi citizens who have access to the bases.

O'Donnell is working closely with Quincy Richardson of Marine Morale, Welfare and Recreation to hammer out the details of the event. Already they've recruited dozens of volunteers and secured a pledge of support from the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 299th Infantry.

The race is still in the early planning stages. Information about how to forward donations to the race organizers and how results will be posted will be announced sometime in the next few weeks.

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com.