Christmas comes in October now for Marie Campbell. Specifically, the date the annual Marine Corps Marathon happens to fall on.
This year, it’s Sunday, Oct. 26. Campbell first ran the 26.2 mile race in 2000 to honor her husband, Air Force Sgt. Dee “Soup” Campbell, who was killed in the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia. Now, she helps raise money through the race for a non-profit organization that offers a network of peer support, grief counseling resources and other assistance for families of service members killed in the line of duty.
“This is my biggest event of the year,” Campbell says of the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon, which travels through Arlington, Va., and Washington, D.C., every fall. “It’s the one where it started. When we get to race day, I feel like that’s my Christmas Day.”
Campbell, who has worked full-time for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors since 2009, said watching so many family members of fallen military members “come through that tent” and accomplish the goal they set -- to run in honor of their loved ones in spite of crippling grief -- is inspiring.
Campbell is director of the TAPS Run and Remember Team, and the group’s 2014 goal is to raise $200,000 through donations to TAPS runners competing in the marathon’s 10K race (a shorter option for those who don’t want to run the full 26.2 miles) on Sunday. This year, there are 350 runners who are part of the TAPS team, including 49 people running together to honor 49 members of a Marine Corps Reserve infantry battalion (3rd Battalion, 25th Marines) who have lost their lives in the past decade. Campbell is hoping to exceed the goal by $25,000 or even a little more, between now and then.
TAPS uses the money raised through donations to fund an array of programs for family members of the fallen: grief counseling, help understanding and navigating military benefits, peer mentoring, a 24/7 survivors’ hotline, and “Good Grief” camps for kids who’ve lost loved ones.
Two years after her husband was killed, Campbell sought out TAPS, where she found among her peers a shared experience in grief. In 2000, another widow asked her to run in the Marine Corps Marathon. “TAPS had helped me so much, I wanted to do something to give back, and also run in my husband’s honor,” Campbell said.
This weekend also includes a one-mile Healthy Kids Fun Run on Saturday, and a TAPS Run and Remember Team Pasta dinner Saturday night featuring a slide show remembering fallen service members.
The events, culminating in Sunday’s race, are really about celebration more than anything else, Campbell said. “We know that they died,” she said of fallen service members, “but we want to honor the life they lived.”