As he ticked off miles on an overnight run, Master Sgt. Jason Torres kept thinking about the 2005 deployment he spent in part sending home the bodies of troops killed in Iraq.
That’s when the weight of America’s wars since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sank in for the Joint Base Lewis-McChord airman.
It’s also when he committed himself to recognizing families of fallen troops whenever he could find an opportunity.
“It was unfortunately a busy time for us,” he said.
Torres paid tribute on Thursday to the troops who gave their lives since 9/11 by helping organize a run for the fallen at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan.
Approximately 1,000 people participated in the run at the sprawling air base that has been a hub for U.S. and NATO forces since 2001.
The remembrance run unfolded over 13 hours near an area with restaurants and shops on the base known as the boardwalk. Participants broke up in teams, with each member running for 30 minutes before resting.
Each hour represented a year of fighting in Afghanistan.
“People came out of the woodwork just to see what was going on,” he said. “It was a great turnout.”
Torres, 34, serves in JBLM’s 62nd Aerial Port Squadron. He’s in Afghanistan as part of a team of seven JBLM airmen overseeing cargo operations at what was one of the world’s busiest airfields during the peak of the war.
He has spent parts of the past two months organizing the remembrance run with about 15 other NATO military service members stationed at the airfield. They connected with families of fallen troops over social media to let the survivors know their loved ones would be remembered.
“This was to honor those that paid the ultimate sacrifice and gave us the motivation to do more than we would be able to do on our own,” he said. “The true heroes are those that are left behind.”
Torres of University Place felt the grief those deaths caused during his deployment nine years ago to an air base in Kuwait that handled remains of fallen troops before they were sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
More than 150 fallen military service members passed through the base at the time, he said.
“We’d carry them on to the aircraft and drape the flag over and do the best we could to honor them as they departed,” he said.
The Defense Department counts 6,834 fatal casualties overseas since the 9/11 attacks, with 2,343 taking place in Afghanistan. Torres’ run in Kandahar was dedicated to 3,320 U.S. and NATO troops who have died in the country, he said.
Back home, his wife put together a shadow run in the South Sound. Other families participated in Colorado and Texas to recognize families of fallen troops.
“If we have an opportunity, even if it’s only a moment, to bring comfort to those left behind, we have to take it,” he said.