Lisa Hallett’s phone still lights up with news from the Army families she met the year her husband died in Afghanistan. Sometimes the calls and texts come just as fast as they did when the families shared a costly deployment.
But now, more often than not, the news they bring makes her smile. She can see veterans and widows like her taking steps to leave the war behind.
“It’s so beautiful to see how they managed to move forward and heal in healthy ways and still keep the memory of the men we honor alive,” she said.
Hallett, 34, has worked to provide a space for that healing from the beginning. After Capt. John Hallett’s death in August 2009, she was one of the women who launched a weekly running group for families coping with their husbands’ violent deployment with the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
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That group, Wear Blue: Run to Remember, is one of the most prominent legacies of a difficult year for a Stryker brigade that lost 37 soldiers in combat. Most of those casualties (22) were taken by John Hallett’s unit, the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment.
Wear Blue now is a national organization that aims to provide a living memorial to fallen troops with chapters at several military installations and spot gatherings all over the country.
Its growing visibility has lifted the spirits of some its first runners, the ones who used to meet at a Burger King in DuPont to briefly take their minds off their grief and the dangers their spouses faced.
“God can take ashes and make it beautiful,” said Charlene Lewis, 42, an original Wear Blue runner whose husband was the chaplain for the 1-17.
“These men died for our freedom, and now (Wear Blue) has brought so much life and hope among others who have grieved. It’s just beautiful,” Lewis said.
Since the Stryker soldiers returned in the summer of 2010, Lisa Hallett has raised her and John’s three children in DuPont while nurturing Wear Blue. She’s participated in triathlons and ran this year in the Boston Marathon, always with her Wear Blue T-shirt.
“Lisa has been our rock,” said Brooke Jenkins Walters at the unveiling in May of a new memorial on JBLM that recognizes the brigade’s dead soldiers. Her husband, Capt. Cory Jenkins, died in the same attack that killed John Hallett.
Hallett likes to focus on moving forward in life, but the memorial dedication unexpectedly pulled her mind back to her husband’s funeral. A sea of soldiers in dress blues at JBLM brought her back to the raw emotions she felt in the summer of 2009.
“It was like somebody dropped the book and I fell back to chapter two,” she said. “It was very much a reminder of the day I buried John.”
It was heartening, too, she said. It let her show her children that their family was one of dozens who lost a soldier with the 5th Brigade that year.
“It wasn’t just dad who died. It was these other 41 families,” she said, counting the brigade’s noncombat casualties. “It was these other 41 families, 41 families who experienced this loss and have the same fierce pride.”
These days, weekly gatherings for Wear Blue in DuPont still begin with a ceremony that traces its roots to the brigade’s deployment. Afterward, participants call the names of service members who’ve died in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many regular runners now come from JBLM’s Special Operations community, as well as widows from many Army units who turned to Wear Blue after enduring a loss.
“The fact is that Wear Blue has grown, and it continues to resonate in the community,” Hallett said, naming several widows and widowers who’ve joined. “It is a community that speaks to them, supports them, encourages them and gets them from living to thriving.”