Husband and wife, both Marines, run to remind others of their fallen comrades' sacrifices
Jared and Kathleen Hart of Manchester, both former Marines, with their children, Doug, 6, and Macaylah, 8, before they run the Anthem Manchester Kids Marathon, held at Livingston Park in Manchester on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
MANCHESTER - For Jared and Katie Hart, today's Manchester City Marathon is not just a chance to log some miles in their adopted hometown on a nice fall weekend.
It's an opportunity to honor those who have given their lives in service to a nation that sometimes seems to forget their sacrifice - and to remind others to do the same.
The Harts know something about that kind of service and sacrifice. Both have served their country in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Staff Sgt. Jared Hart is a 15-year career Marine whose infantry unit deployed to southern Afghanistan last year. His wife, Katie, is a 2004 graduate of Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont; she spent eight years in the Marine Corps Reserves.
The couple will be running today's 13-mile half-marathon race, which sets off from Elm Street at 8:50 a.m. They are raising money for memorial scholarships honoring two of Katie Hart's classmates at Norwich: Lt. Mark Dooley, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005, and Sgt. Adam Kennedy, who was killed by an IED in Iraq in 2007.
"It's to raise awareness of the people that have given the ultimate sacrifice," Katie Hart said. "The sacrifices that are being made on a daily basis across the world that's sometimes lost in whatever else is going on."
A native of Sagamore Beach, Mass., Hart wanted to be a Marine from the time she was 14 years old. "I wrote to them and they told me I had to graduate from high school," she said with a smile.
She did enlist in the Marines after her sophomore year of college.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done, physically, emotionally, everything," she said. "It was tough. But it changed me. Made me a tougher person."
She became a combat engineer, deploying on missions to Peru and Honduras: "Building stuff. Blowing it up."
Jared Hart joined the Marines right after his 1996 graduation from Londonderry High School. He spent four years on active duty and joined the Marine Reserves a month before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
His unit was activated in 2003, and he served with an anti-terrorism task force in the Philippines, providing support for that country's military.
The two work in security at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research lab based at Hanscom Air Force Base that focuses on national security. That's where they met in 2009.
They were married on Jan. 13, 2011; just a few months later, Jared's infantry unit deployed to Afghanistan.
Jared Hart said leaving his new wife and his two young children, Doug, now 6, and Macaylah, 8, was one of the toughest things he's ever done. But, he said, "this is what I've trained for my entire adult life."
"Luckily" - he knocks on a wooden coffee table - "everybody came home from our unit. We didn't lose anybody while we were there. Compared to the rest of the country, we were in a fairly quiet spot."
In her husband's absence, Katie Hart threw herself into her new role as stepmom and took over a troop support program at MIT. It was tough, she says. "I'd never been on this side of deployment."
They got a "deployment cat" for the kids, naming him "Chesty Puller" after a famous Marine Corps hero; he grew into a gregarious, 19-pound "beast" while Jared was away.
Jared arrived home on their first wedding anniversary, a belated surprise Christmas gift for the children.
There's no indication he will be deployed to a combat zone again anytime soon. But next time, his wife vowed, "If he goes, I'm going, too."
Katie Hart said her Christian faith carried her through the toughest times during Jared's deployment.
"Every day, just praying for his safe return. It was a tough journey. But I knew if anything happened, he'd be in heaven, so that gave me comfort."
Her husband's faith has been strengthened by his service, as well.
"I've always followed Christ," he said. "But especially in my older years, and being in the military, it's been a lot more meaningful."
The family has been training together for this weekend's races; the two Hart youngsters planned to run the kids' race on Saturday.
The Harts say they're "very competitive" when it comes to running. Last month, they ran two 5K road races in one weekend; Jared beat his wife in the Saturday race by 7 seconds; Katie bested him in the Sunday race by about the same margin.
Katie's the natural runner of the two, following in her mother's sneakers. She ran the Boston Marathon in 2003, although she admits she did so as a "bandit" - an unofficial entrant.
Running is her passion, she said. "I can talk to God during that time by myself."
And running for a cause means even more, the Harts said. They both ran the half-marathon in Manchester two years ago, raising money for Children's Hospital Boston.
"It gives you a drive for why you're doing this," Katie said. "When you're exhausted in the middle of the run and don't really want to do it anymore, you kind of think of that."
This year, they hope their efforts will remind others of the military families who have lost loved ones, including Katie's former classmates.
"When it's something that touches so close to home and family, it's something even more personal," Jared said. "A few hours of pain for me is nothing compared to what they're going through. It's a good tribute to them."
His wife said it's a chance to do something positive.
"Rather than focusing on the hate in the world, it's focusing on the good things and remembering people," she said.
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Shawne Wickham may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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