By Krysia Gabenski
Marines based at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, reached out to Susan G. Komen San Diego to run a Race for the Cure in Afghanistan Nov. 4 — the same day of the San Diego race — to raise funds for uninsured and underinsured women fighting breast cancer. Team Leatherneck set a goal to raise $10,000 — the equivalent of 80 mammograms for uninsured women. But in typical Marine Corps fashion, participants well exceeded their goal, bringing in more than $19,000 for Susan G. Komen San Diego.
Originally setting out to raise a modest $1,250 and recruit 50 runners for the 5K race, lead organizer Gunnery Sgt. Allan Anderson and Team Leatherneck co-captains Staff Sgt. Natalie Calderon and Sgt. Irma Rosales, who both have family members affected by breast cancer, advertised the event, bringing the race to a whole new level. More than 560 people signed up, with runners from all branches of the military and some DoD civilians and contractors participating, too.
“I never could have imagined how successful this race could have become,” says Anderson. “It was truly amazing to see everyone come together for such a worthy cause. It is a true testament to those I serve with in Afghanistan.”
Based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., Anderson found it fitting to support a local Susan G. Komen event.
“[San Diego has] such strong military supporters,” Anderson says. “I wanted to give back to America’s Finest City. Whether we are running a race and raising awareness or simply conducting our daily duties in Afghanistan, the support we receive from San Diego truly means the world to us.”
Anderson contacted Laura Farmer Sherman, executive director of Susan G. Komen San Diego, in June to let her know he wanted to organize an event that could make a small difference in the lives of women in the San Diego area who are battling breast cancer. Together, they decided on a Nov. 4 race date, to coincide with the San Diego Race for the Cure.
“We’ve been in close coordination from Afghanistan to San Diego ever since,” Anderson says. “It’s not easy to coordinate a race from 9,000 miles away, but [Laura and her staff] did a great job. We have yet to meet, but Team Leatherneck is looking forward to meeting them when we return to the States.”
With planning under way and hundreds of runners signed up, donations came pouring in. Through the Susan G. Komen San Diego website, Anderson was able to set up a link where those based at Camp Leatherneck could go to join the team. Friends and family back in the States could log on and donate.
The race took place entirely on the mostly paved roads in Camp Leatherneck, the largest Marine Corps base in Afghanistan. Located in southern Helmand province, going off base isn’t an option.
“As much fun as the run is,” says Anderson, “we still need to remember we’re in a very volatile region of Afghanistan.”
The route, according to Anderson, was fairly short in comparison to other runs and events Marines compete in, but it provided participants a much-needed morale boost.
“The run has had a tremendous effect on morale at Camp Leatherneck,” says Anderson. “Everyone came together to show off their pride, wear pink, and donate for a great cause. Some wore customized T-shirts they made in support of a loved one who battled breast cancer, pink tutus, and a lot of other flashy outfits — a great change of pace from the normal military olive drab green.”