Soldiers earned same medals, certificates

Air Force Staff Sgt. Dominic DeCicco ran the Boston Marathon on
Monday, without coming within 6,000 miles of the actual finish
Yet DeCicco and about 250 other soldiers stationed in southern
Iraq earned the same medals and certificates awarded to those
finishing the famed Boston run. For a few hours, "The Boston
Marathon in Iraq" allowed DeCicco and the other soldiers to
concentrate on something other than the perils of war.
"The run gave everyone something to look forward to for the
last few weeks," DeCicco, of Coral Springs, Fla., said in a
postrace e-mail interview Monday with The Associated Press.
Organizers went to great length in giving the Iraqi course a
true Boston feel.
The same marathon signage and Outdoor Life Network banners that
lined the course to Boston was posted along the Iraqi route, which
was centered near the Ziggurat of Ur -- a 4,000-year-old,
40-foot-high temple tower and one of the region's famed
archaeological and religious sites.
Runners got the same T-shirts, same style of bib numbers, same
water bottles as the Boston competitors. And OLN, which broadcast
the bigger marathon live in the United States, aired taped segments
of the Iraqi run that ended a few hours before runners left
Hopkinton on their 26.2-mile trek to Boston.
"People thought I was crazy to hold a marathon in a combat
zone," said Capt. Rodney Freeman of the New Hampshire National
Guard, the Iraqi event lead organizer. "But as time passed, more
and more soldiers signed up. We've motivated the troops to
challenge themselves by doing something beyond their normal
DeCicco, who said he's been a serious runner for about three
years, was part of a four-man relay entry. He did the first
6.7-mile leg of the race, one that didn't begin with the pop of a
starter's pistol -- but the blast of an M-16 rifle.
"I'm sure most people running in Boston will never get to
experience that," said DeCicco, who finished his run in 56
minutes, handling temperatures that reached the 90s. "So I guess
that has its own significance."
DeCicco, who is married and has three young sons, is stationed
at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. He's on his fourth
deployment to the Middle East in the last four years, and works as
what's called a "Water Walker" -- someone who handles all
base-to-base communications.
"This is my first marathon; that is why I ran it as a relay,"
DeCicco said. "I always wanted to run a marathon. Just never went
out and did it."