With a steady drizzle falling on Fort Gordon's Barton Field, Sgt. Easton Bertelsen took a fistful of ammunition and began his 3.2-mile jog around a now-muddied track.
The Marine ran for fallen colleagues Capt. Matthew Bancroft, of Redding, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Bryan Bertrand, of Coos Bay, Ore.; and Sgt. Nathan Hays, of Wilbur, Wash., who all died in a refueling tanker crash on Jan. 9, 2002, in Pakistan.
He also ran with thoughts of another Marine, a close friend who drowned. He shouted their names as he rounded the field.
Roughly 20 minutes after he started, Bertelsen crossed the finish line, handing off 21 rounds of ammunition to the next runner. He walked to a nearby memorial erected for the more than 1,500 Marines and Navy personnel who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan, kneeled to pray and then removed the three dog tags that had accompanied him on the run.
And that was just the first lap in the 11th annual Marine Corps Tribute to the Fallen run, which began Wednesday and ends Nov. 6.
"It's kind of an honor for any Marine to experience this," Bertelsen said afterward. "You'll never forget our sailors and our Marines that have died in battle. Their wives are alone. Their kids grow up without their father, so it kind of helps (to) never forget their names so that they'll always carry on."
For 10 days, 24 hours a day, Marines, Navy and other military personnel will run laps around Barton Field to represent those who have sacrificed their lives abroad. Each lap is run in honor of three fallen Marines or sailors, each represented by the dog tags draped around the runner's neck.
This year's run started just after 9 a.m., when Capt. Dallas Butler, the commanding officer of the Fort Gordon Marine Corps Detachment, handed Bertelsen 21 rounds of ammunition to be delivered to the firing detail. The ammo will pass hands until the final day, when the rounds are handed to the firing detail for a 21-gun salute.
The event's organizer, Staff Sgt. Ryan Hernandez, said it's a touching moment to see the runners round the track, often in the worst of conditions. Eleven years ago, he took part in the first run.
"It's a tearjerker," he said. "Running multiple times is hard on your body. What gets me through it is the fact (the fallen Marines are) not here to do it. That could have been you."
Butler, who will be participating in his third run this year, said a lot races through his mind when he's handed the ammunition.
It's a moment he looks forward to year round, even if the weather doesn't cooperate.
"In 10 days, we won't even remember that it was muddy on the first day," he said.
The final lap is expected to be completed about 8:45 a.m. Nov. 6, after which military units and commanders from the Army and Air Force will join the Marine Corps and Navy to run one more lap in a show of solidarity.