SAN VICENTE, El Salvador – About 30,000 people participated in this year’s edition of Pat’s Run, but Sun Devil Stadium wasn’t the only finish line. U.S. Army Master Sgt. Terry Thompson, with some help, replicated the run here, almost two thousand miles south of his Tempe counterparts.
Thompson, who lives in west Chandler, has missed Pat’s Run, held in honor of former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, only twice, both times as a member of the 996th Medical Aerial Support Company of the Arizona Army National Guard while the unit was on deployment in the Middle East.
While working for a local construction company several months ago, Thompson noticed the date of this year’s Pat’s Run on the calendar and made up his mind: he wasn’t going to miss another one. So he started to make plans.
Suddenly, however, a small complication developed: Within days of signing up, he realized that, once again, he wasn’t going to be in Arizona on the run’s scheduled date — he was due to be on active duty again with the Army.
“I was a little disappointed, but I figured I’d just run 4.2 miles in El Salvador,” said Thompson, who returned home April 22 after completing, along with other soldiers of the 996th, a two-week rotation here as part of Beyond the Horizon 2011 El Salvador, a training exercise designed to provide humanitarian assistance to people recovering from Hurricane Ida in 2009.
Tillman, who wore No. 42 at Arizona State, died in 2004 while serving in Afghanistan, only a year after declining a $3.6 million contract offer to stay in the NFL. The race honoring Tillman was established a year later.
Since its arrival in Tempe, the race has gained national recognition. This year, it included participants from 48 states.
That’s why, when Thompson told fellow soldiers of his intent to run 4.2 miles for Tillman, they were eager to join him.
“Tillman’s story is a story for Arizonans, military personnel and people needing motivation alike,” said Col. Timothy Houser, the commander of Beyond the Horizon 2011.
Houser’s 130th Maneuver Enhance Brigade, North Carolina Army National Guard, is serving as the command and control element of the exercise until its conclusion in June. Thompson’s idea for an El Salvador version of Pat’s Run came as no big surprise to Houser. Even living on the other side of the country, he knew about the event and its honoree’s traits as a soldier.
“I flew out to Arizona last year to participate in the race,” Houser said. “I have read the books about Tillman and, from what I’ve read, know him to have been an open-minded, passionate individual. He is someone we can all learn from.”
About 50 soldiers ran Pat’s Run in El Salvador on April 16, so Thompson didn’t have to run alone.
After the race, soldiers chanted “42” in honor of Tillman. PV2 Jenni Beauchamp, also of the 996th, even completed an extra lap for her husband, a retired soldier with back injuries who couldn’t join the run.
“My husband always idolized Tillman,” Beauchamp said.
“He was such a motivation for all of us. Today he motivated me to run an extra lap for my husband.”
While the run indeed added purpose to the soldiers’ El Salvador assignment, Thompson said his two weeks helping provide humanitarian aid to the people of the hurricane-damaged rural community of San Vicente, an hour and 20 minutes from the nation’s capital, San Salvador, had other benefits, as well.
“(Our purpose) was training, and while the Army engineers worked on schools, my job as a senior medic was to help fine tune the skills of some of the newer members of the 996.”
Thompson said that, although there once was a military base nearby, the soldiers have been living in an Army-constructed tent city during their deployment. But that hasn’t dampened anyone’s enthusiasm.
“It’s a beautiful country,” said Thompson, “and the people are really friendly. It’s been a great experience.”
Emerson Marcus is a Public Affairs specialist for the 106th Public Affairs Detachment, Nevada Army National Guard. He also covers sports for the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal. Don Kirkland contributed to this story.