Families race to support troops in Afghanistan

MIDDLEBURY — On Sept. 1, family members and friends of the U.S. Army 8-1 Cavalry regiment set out to travel 10,239 miles.This was the total distance that the troops in the unit had traveled to reach Afghanistan from their home base in Washington state, and their loved ones set out to travel the same distance — by adding up miles exercised — in the “Race to Afghanistan.” While most of those logging miles were in Washington, there were also a number of people in Addison County logging miles for Dakota troop, the troop of Ripton native Sgt. Lance Leduc. Since he entered the army in 2006, Leduc has been in training in Washington, but in June his air cavalry unit was deployed to Afghanistan.The race was coordinated by the brigade Family Readiness Group, or FRG. FRGs are composed of family members, soldiers, civilian employees and volunteers, and provide support both for deployed soldiers and for their loved ones at home.To log miles for the race, participants simply add up how many miles they have run, walked or biked. Fifteen minutes of swimming, playing an organized sport or attending an exercise class also counts for one mile. At the end of each month, all of the miles for each troop’s team are combined, and the winning team — and their troops in Afghanistan — receives an award. “It’s half support for the troops, half to give you something to focus on while they’re gone,” said Jill Leduc, Sgt. Leduc’s wife. She moved from Washington back to Addison County after her husband’s deployment to be closer to family and friends while he was gone. To her, the race is a creative way to keep family members involved while their loved ones are so far away.“It’s a way to not feel so passive,” she said. “And to keep people from sinking into depression. The exercise helps.”Jill Leduc herself logged 29 miles in the first month. Normally, she said, she would have gotten more, but she has less time to work out here than she did in Washington. With 18-month-old and three-year-old sons, she has her hands full.But thanks to the team’s enthusiasm, the 84-member Dakota troop team logged an average of 130 miles per person for the month, for a total of 10,964 miles.Dakota troop was second in the five-troop squadron, behind Comanche troop’s 11,148 miles. And with fewer participants, Dakota troop’s racers had the highest average number of miles.With the mileage that each team has rung in, the FRG has reevaluated the goals for the race. The new goal is 365,000 combined miles for the entire brigade by April.Close to home, the Dakota troop team is growing. Norma Leduc, Lance Leduc’s mother, works at the Middlebury College pool and recently recruited several more dedicated swimmers and runners to join the Race to Afghanistan, including members of the college cross country team.With participants from Vermont to Washington and in places in between, the Race to Afghanistan is racking up many miles each day. But for Jill Leduc, it is most importantly a link back to her Washington-based FRG and to her husband in Afghanistan.“This is my way to stay connected,” she said.

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