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Afghanistan base holds 'Minefield Marathon'

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) -- In a land accustomed to war, it was only fitting that a mine detonating sounded the start of a marathon at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, on Nov. 29.

Servicemembers from Poland, Germany, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Slovakia and the United States competed in the race.

With Humvees on either side of the road and a Black Hawk helicopter hovering, runners set off for 26.2 miles of dust and dirt.

Because of the rough terrain and desolation, many runners found this marathon more difficult than others.

"This was different than any other marathon, it was much more mentally challenging," said the winner, 2nd Lt. Ray Youngs, from the 277th Military Police Company at Fort Bragg, N.C., who ran the marathon in 3:01:65.

Most runners had never run in a marathon and had no idea what to expect other than a lot of dust and fulfilling a goal.

Tech. Sgt. Chris Kotsko, a reservist from the 438th Air Expeditionary Squadron, ran the last half of the marathon carrying two American flags for two very special people in Ohio. He was sponsored by the lymphoid and leukemia societies.

"I have two heroes -- one is in Dayton, and one is in Columbus," he said. "I had to finish the marathon so I could present these flags to the kids."

The mission was important to Kotsko because he is a lymphoma survivor.

Kotsko carried the flags through dust kicked up by passing vehicles and incoming aircraft as he ran past damaged buildings and local nationals who watched the race.

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