Gunnery Sgt. James Meek had to slow his pace.
"It's not a race," said Meek, who took the first three-mile lap around Fort Gordon's Barton Field on Saturday, kicking off the third annual Marine Tribute Run.
Runners will be on the track 24 hours a day for 13 days to remember more than 1,000 Marines and sailors who've lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan since March 2003. Photographs of all the fallen will be displayed on a screen.
Meek said 1,039 laps will be run, with more added if needed - one lap for each of those who have died.
During one of his laps, Meek will remember Cpl. William White, who died in 2003.
"On March 29, 2003, I lost a brother, William White. I never met him, but I had to make the casualty call. When I saw his dad, I told him, 'I can't feel your pain, but I still feel your loss,' " he said.
That sense of brotherhood and camaraderie isn't something that can be learned in a textbook, Capt. Barian Woodward told his Marines before Meek took the first lap.
Most of the Marines at Fort Gordon are trainees.
The essence of the credos of "Once a Marine, Always a Marine" and "Honor, Courage, Commitment" is instilled in a Marine through events such as the tribute run, he said.
"This particular event is all about developing that mind set," he said.
Woodward encouraged the young Marines not to think of the event as a somber one, but to consider it a celebration of the lives those service members lived.
"We will keep carrying on the mission in (their) name," he said.
It won't be just Marines and sailors who take laps during the event; military retirees and members of the community will participate.
About 150 Marines and sailors are assigned to Fort Gordon.
The Marine Tribute Run is scheduled to end at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9.
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