Daniele, who met Comfort at Fort Campbell in Clarksville, Tenn., was in his Army Ranger road-march uniform strapping a 45-pound pack on his back. He planned to jog the 5K in the uniform.
“We were both in the 101st Airborne together, but we never served in the same exact unit,” Daniele said. “But we knew each other well from being next door neighbors at Fort Campbell.”
They traveled from Savannah and arrived last night for the run. His wife also planned to participate with their 3-month-old baby boy in a jogging stroller.
“We came to this to kind of pay tribute to him,” Daniele said. “That and all the other fallen Rangers in the regiment.”
The race is the fourth annual 5K created to fund the Kyle Comfort Memorial Foundation. The organization was set up by Comfort’s family and friends after he was killed in combat in Afghanistan on May 8, 2010.
Joel Denney, the race coordinator, said the run is the only fundraiser the charity does to finance its work. The foundation helps families of servicemembers who are either killed or wounded while serving.
“As soon as the families are notified of an injury or death, they normally would go to the hospital or to Dover, Del., where they would meet the body,” Denney said. “We give them money so they can do that.”
The organization also funds other work for service members’ families including building wheelchair ramps at the home of Jacksonville resident Marine Sgt. Ben Tomlinson, who was wounded in action.
The run usually raises about $10,000 to $15,000 for the foundation, Denney said.
Mel Shinholster, of the Blue Star Salute Foundation, was one of a few people manning a booth filled with pictures of military members. He said each photograph is of someone who died while serving sometime after Sept. 11, 2001.
Each of the 513 runners’ numbered bibs included the name of one person who died serving his or her country. Many of the runners had already looked up the service member on their bib, Shinholster said.
“These young men and women on the board, as well as those serving today — right now, in an all-volunteer military with a war going on — all found something deep inside themselves to cause them to hold up their hand and say, ‘I’ll do this,’” Shinholster said. “That makes them true heroes.”
The crowd of runners — a record for the race — was heavy with active military and veterans. Perhaps the oldest was Wilburn Smallwood, 90. Smallwood served with the U.S. Army 36th Division in Europe during World War II, he said. He was wounded and received a Purple Heart during his service, he added.
Smallwood said he enjoys running, but running this particular race is special to him because of the support for military veterans that is inherent in the day’s event.
“It makes me feel good,” Smallwood said.
But not everyone running was a veteran.
Katelin Dill, 10, from Saks was running the 5K for the second time with her mother. Dill likes to run the races because they’re ‘energizing,’ she said.
“Last year, I got a first place medal in the 9-year-old category,” Dill said.
Bennett Browder, the winner of the race this year, is also not a veteran, but runs the race because it supports a good cause.
“I used to work for Lockheed Martin at the depot,” Browder said. “So, I sort of could say that’s in my heart even though I’m not a soldier.”
Brooke Comfort, Kyle Comfort’s wife, said the whole reason for starting the run and the foundation was to follow her husband’s ethos of giving to others. The run keeps his memory alive, she said.
“He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it,” Comfort said. “This isn’t anything that he wouldn’t be doing.”
The foundation gave out $20,000 to $25,000 this year, Comfort said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.