By Stacee Sledge
After Army Capt. John Hallett was killed while on a medical mission in Afghanistan in August 2009, his wife Lisa had a choice: be consumed by grief or honor John’s memory by living every day as fully as possible; to feel and exist and challenge herself, physically and emotionally.
“I think it would be an incredible slap in the face to John if I just stopped,” says 30-year-old Lisa. “He died so that the rest of the country can live. I owe it to John to live as passionately and vibrantly as I can. We all do.”
To that end, Lisa co-founded wear blue: run to remember in February 2010 with a small group of wives from the 1-17 Infantry Battalion of the (then) 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Ft. Lewis. The Battalion and Brigade lost 41 soldiers during the yearlong deployment, and saw over 200 soldiers severely injured; twenty-three of those casualties came from 1-17.
Lisa volunteers as the CEO of wear blue: run to remember, alongside Erin O’Connor, the organization’s COO. Both full-time positions are unpaid.
“We have been incredibly blessed to have a solid, professional volunteer population creating the wear blue: run to remember staff,” Lisa says.
The wear blue: run to remember running group now averages 125 participants a week and gathers each Saturday morning in DuPont near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, to run, remember, and honor the service and sacrifice of our brave soldiers who lost their lives to war.“Some people grieve in tears, while others grieve in action,” Lisa explains. “I let my sweat be tears and my fuel for pushing forward in a way that honors John.”
Donning their blue shirts, the group – made up of service members, family, and community members – forms a circle and calls out the names of the fallen – not out of sorrow but out of appreciation. “It’s a way of saying, ‘You can’t run, you can’t live, but we can and we’re going to make the most of this day, in honor of your sacrifice,’” says Lisa.
And for participating service members who are still healing from the losses they sustained during deployment, this circle of remembrance is also a chance to realize that the community members standing next to them appreciates the sacrifice the American military makes, that their families make.
“It’s really powerful,” Lisa says of the circle. “My life is crazy – I’m a widow with three kids – and it gives me this moment to not let life consume me, and to pause, and to say John’s name and to hear the names of these other men and women who were just as real as John and had just as real families and goals and dreams and personalities and recognize the enormous gift of life they have given.”
wear blue: run to remember is also a chance for community members standing next to soldiers to connect with the loss, to see that the military population is not a foreign entity, is not removed, is not just a number. “It really bridges the divide between the two communities,” Lisa says.
John, a West Point graduate, was deployed just a few weeks before the birth of his third child, daughter Heidi. He died 23 days after she was born, never having held her in his arms.
Heidi’s big brothers Jackson and Bryce were 3 and 1, respectively, at the time. Today, Lisa says, the children are dynamic individuals who are moving forward in a healthy manner, while still connecting to John.
“Jackson always tells or asks for Daddy-stories, while Bryce naturally weaves John into the day: ‘Oh my daddy taught me how to do that,’ or ‘My daddy likes it when I…’” Lisa says.
“John’s presence is very real in our day-to-day,” she continues. “There’s always going to be a delicate balance we strike in living life in the present, while keeping John as the vibrant inspiration for our choices.”
Daily life is still challenging for Lisa, of course. “Logistically, it’s no easier today than it was two years ago when John was killed,” she says. It’s still just her, manning the home front.
But she says she’s better equipped to confront her sorrow and feels more grounded in the promise of the future.
Her community also continues to support her in ways both big and small. Every Monday morning, her neighbor John pulls her garbage cans to the curb. Recently, 106 wear blue boxes were delivered to her house, and in her absence, her neighbor Patricia loaded them onto her porch and then onto trucks for their next destination. On parent pumpkin carving day, one of John’s soldiers, CPT Alex Patterson, met Jackson at school to help him carve his pumpkin.
“John may not be here, but I have an entire community of individuals who have stepped up in his name and honor to help us out,” she says. “I am grateful.”
Lisa’s children – and the children of fallen soldiers across our nation – are another important catalyst for wear blue: run to remember.
“They know how important running is to Mommy’s healing and happiness, and the wear blue community is an incredible source of support for our family personally,” Lisa says.
In 10 years, Lisa hopes wear blue’s success and growth will be a continuing chance for the nation to show her children and the families of the 6,000 fallen soldiers across the country that Americans remember, the won’t forget, and they still appreciate what these families gave.
“One percent of our population represents our nation in a really sacrificial way,” says Lisa. “They go and serve, they leave their families for a year, they put their lives and their limbs on the line.”
Lisa knows the American population believes in their military and wants to support them. wear blue: run to remember is her attempt to bring the military and civilian communities together in the shared appreciation for the service and sacrifice.
Lisa’s long-term goal for wear blue: run to remember is to see chapters open at all major military installations across the country. She’d also like to create a major wear blue Marathon.
“I hope that blue becomes the new pink,” she says. “When people see pink they think of breast cancer awareness, and when they see blue, they’ll think in honor of the service and sacrifice of the American military.”