A Perilous Course – Racing in Afghanistan

November 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

“I want to thank SignMeUp for your great service.  The ease and operation of the registration directly contributed to the single largest race event in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom began.” – Mike Thayer, Run for a Warrior Event Director.

We get more than our share of thanks, but this one was particularly meaningful.  Looking at the event’s online registration form, I saw that the five-mile race benefitted Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that develops programs to assist injured service members.  It was held on September 8 at Bagram and Kandahar military bases, and coincided with the WWP’s 8K Run in Jacksonville, Florida, which, coincidentally, was organized by 1st Place Sports, another SignMeUp customer.

Mike Thayer

Event organizer Mike Thayer (right)

After I blinked back my tears, I started wondering about the event itself:  what are the challenges of organizing a race on not just one, but two Afghan military bases?  How did this particular event become so successful?  Mike agreed to Skype with me from his base in Afghanistan the following week.

A 22-year Army veteran, Mike currently works for Mission Essential Personnel, a military contractor that provides linguistic services to the military.  Having participated in many running races in both the U.S. and Afghanistan, he decided to organize one to benefit WWP, an organization he has always admired.  Ironically, Mike didn’t need to deal with some of the most significant difficulties that face stateside organizers.  His employer generously agreed to underwrite most of the cost, and Army and Air Force Exchange Services provided gift cards, prizes, and marketing and advertising support.  There is only one main road on each of the bases, so course planning was a no-brainer (2.5 miles out, 2.5 miles back!).  He had to coordinate with just one base commander at each site rather than myriad local agencies.  And, he had a captive audience.  “It was easy to get the word out,” Mike said.  “I just posted three banners along each base’s main road.”

medical team

Medical teams carrying litters

At the same time, Mike clearly had other considerations that are foreign to domestic event organizers.  He told me that although during his event the bases were quiet, they are often targeted by bombs and rockets.  Since the soldiers participate in just regular running gear, “guardian angels” that carry weapons are stationed at various points along the course.   If necessary, participants and spectators would take shelter in the base’s built in bunkers.

In all, 1,375 military personnel participated in the event.  “Many soldiers ran in support of a wounded comrade, or with two bibs in memory of a lost soldier.”  Medical teams carried full size dummies in litters to represent those injured service members unable to participate.

When all was said and done, Mike gained “a new respect for event organizers.” However, it was well worth the effort:  the event raised over $26,000 to support WWP.  View event photos and read more about the race here.

Veteran’s Day is November 11 – enter your message of support to Mike and the troops in Afghanistan in the comment box below and we will pass it along.

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