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Gold Star sister trains to honor fallen brothers at 2013 Army Marathon

Email   Print   Share By Heather Graham-Ashley, Sentinel News Editor
January 31, 2013 | Sports
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Monica Velez, accompanied by a friend, runs the Marine Corps Marathon in 2009 in honor of her brothers, Cpl. Jose “Freddy” Velez and Spc. Andrew Velez. Monica will also run in the inaugural Army Marathon April 21 from Killeen to Temple, in honor of her brothers. Photo courtesy of Monica Velez
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Monica Velez stands next to a poster of her fallen brothers, Cpl. Jose “Freddy” Velez and Spc. Andrew Velez during the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon. Monica runs the marathon each year in memory of her brothers, but this year, she has added the Army Marathon to her races. Monica will run in honor and in memory of her brothers at the inaugural run in Killeen, April 21. Photo courtesy of Monica Velez
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Every October since 2009, Monica Velez runs the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington to honor the memory of her brothers, Cpl. Jose “Freddy” Velez and Spc. Andrew Velez.

“Running is a way to deal with my grief,” Monica said. “It helps me.”

This year, Monica is training for what will be her most difficult run yet: The 2013 Army Marathon.

In its inaugural year, the Army Marathon will be held April 21 from Killeen to Temple to honor the service and sacrifice of all military personnel, run director Ed Bandas said.

The date coincides with the first battles of the American Revolution, a tribute as fitting as hosting the race in the shadow of the Army’s largest installation, Bandas said.

“Why not put the Army Marathon at Fort Hood,” he said. “The biggest obstacle to overcome is that no national event like this has ever happened in Bell County.”

As word is getting out, more than 300 have registered, but Bandas hopes to see that number increase tenfold. He also hopes this race becomes an annual event.

Monica shares Bandas’ hope.

“I hope a lot of Families come out,” she said. “I feel like, as the Army, we can really pull this together.”

Planning for the marathon began in September 2011 at a golf tournament in Temple when former Marine Corps officer Bandas and some friends were talking about hosting a fundraiser to benefit military charities.

“We wanted to try to make a difference for local charities,” Bandas said.

At the time of that conversation, Bandas was getting ready to run in the Marine Corps Marathon and he realized the Army did not have an official marathon.

Thus, the idea of the Army Marathon was planted. Professionals were hired to engineer the marathon, and a board, consisting of retired Lt. Gen. Dave Palmer and retired Lt. Gen. Don Jones, was brought on to vet and select the charities.

There also was a desire to help some of the smaller or regional nonprofits that could really benefit from the race proceeds, Bandas said.

Charities elected to benefit from the marathon include Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, The Military Child Education Coalition and America’s Fund Semper Fi Fund.

“We are only supporting charities with appropriately high ratings and that benefit military members and their Families,” Bandas said.

Runners can register to run for a specific charity, he added.

Registration information is available at the race website, www.thearmymarathon.com.

As she does at the Marine Corps Marathon, Monica will run for TAPS and in honor of Freddy and Andrew, but this marathon is different.

Monica is accustomed to running in Washington in October. As a cold-weather runner, she is fretting the potential of Texas heat in April, but there is another, more personal bother for her.

It’s much harder, she said.

“This is a little closer to home,” Monica said.

To Monica, Fort Hood will always hold an image of home and Family for her. Freddy deployed from the post as a 1st Cavalry Division Soldier. She spent a lot of time here with her brother and his wife, helping them prepare for Freddy’s deployment.

“Some of the roads I’ll be running, I ran with Freddy,” Monica said. “I haven’t run those roads since then.”

She said she still feels that her brothers are running with her, motivating her to not stop. Thinking about them on patrol during their deployments also pushes her.

“I always think about how if I want to, I can slow down and get a drink,” she said. “Then I think about how my brothers couldn’t do that.”

Running was a Family event for the Velez siblings.

As children, Monica, Freddy and Andrew would run with their father, a police officer and single parent who raised the three in West Texas.

All three siblings ran throughout their school years, but Andrew, especially excelled.

“Andrew was probably the best runner ever,” Monica said.

Andrew was the natural athlete, she said, and Freddy was the disciplined, team player who would train to compete.

Monica, the oldest, was the mother figure who worried when Freddy joined the Army and Andrew, the youngest, joined him two years later.

Freddy, a 1st Cav. Div. Soldier, was killed on Veterans Day 2004 in Fallujah.

Andrew escorted him home.

Two years later and on a deployment to Afghanistan that he had a choice to decline, Andrew took his own life on June 25, 2006.

Monica ran to work through her grief.

“Running gives me a whole different perspective on my grief and on my journey,” Monica said.

At the 2009 Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors’ workshop at Fort Hood, another surviving Family member asked Monica if she could run in honor of Monica’s brothers.

That was the beginning of Monica’s annual marathons. She now has a team of runners that join her each year in Washington as team GR83, a name that is a play on Andrew’s self-given moniker, GR81.

One thing will be the same for Monica though.

The Army Marathon, like the Marine Corps Marathon, will be an opportunity for her to share her brothers’ stories with others, and a time of healing as she spends that time with other service members and grieving Families and friends.

“You identify with them, share your story along the route,” she said. “It’s very powerful. It’s a good way to start healing.”

She has even seen the healing effect on Soldiers.

“I’ve met Soldiers who’ve run for their fallen,” Monica said. “I can see the impact it makes for them.”
 
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