Nearly eight months ago, the 22 members of Third Platoon, Charlie Company, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, a Marine reserve unit, departed for Iraq. During their first patrol in April, an antitank mine explosion killed one of their own, Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Kinchen of Alaska, and severely injured two others. Devastated by the loss, Capt. David Herron, their 29-year-old platoon commander, sought a way to honor the men.
"We -- myself and one of my team leaders -- decided to" run the marathon as a unit, said Herron, who has run five Marine Corps Marathons. "We knew the timeline when we were coming home would be about this time. We thought that there would be no better way to punctuate our trial together.
"I told them from the beginning that this deployment was going to be a marathon and not a sprint. The endurance is everything. To me, there's no better way to finish this than at the Marine Corps Marathon that starts and finishes at the Iwo Jima Memorial. There's nothing I want more than to cross that finish line with my brothers in arms, having gone the distance."
All but a couple of the members of the Third Platoon, including their family and friends and the mother of Cpl. Steven Gill of Texas, another Marine from their unit who was killed in July, will run in the race. The two men -- Cpl. Clinton Barkley and Sgt. Alejandro Del Rio -- who lost limbs in April will participate in the first and last mile. Staff Sgt. Richard Smith, who was wounded in July, will try to run the entire race. The 28 runners, wearing crimson shirts with "Texas Recon" in gold lettering on the front and "In Memory of Jeremiah Kinchen and Steven Gill" on the back, plan to cross the finish line as a unit.
"We'll start together and finish together," Herron said. "That's kind of a Marine Corps value, never leaving a man behind."
Aside from a few Alaskans and Herron, who is from Pennsylvania, nearly the entire Third Platoon hails from Texas and all are reservists. One 32-year-old platoon sergeant is finishing his degree in computer science engineering at Texas A&M. They range in age from 21 to 33 years old, with an average length of service in the Marines of three to four years. Most of them had been to Iraq before deploying again earlier this year.
"These guys are true citizen soldiers," Herron said. "We have six Purple Hearts, and two guys who won't be coming home to their mothers."
None of the Marines has trained for the marathon. They returned from Iraq less than two weeks ago.
"What I told them is the same I'll tell you," Herron said. "There's no shame in their bodies giving out. But for this event, for every step they take, that's one that Jeremiah and Steven won't. That's how we're taking it."
As much as this race will be a chance for the Third Platoon to honor Kinchen and Gill, it will also be a time for them to mourn their loss.
"There is still a lot of healing" to do, Herron said. "We had to postpone a lot of the grief."
After Sunday's race, they will go their separate ways and rarely see each other.
"That's the thing with the reserves," Herron said. "Once we demobilize, then everybody goes to the winds. They're back to their civilian jobs like it never happened almost."
Before they part company, the Marines will undertake one last mission together -- running 26.2 miles without the benefit of having trained for a marathon. Herron has no doubt they will succeed.
"These guys have been through some difficult things," Herron said. "They've always relied on the strength of their unit."