HALLSVILLE — A group of Hallsville High School students got up early on their day off from school Monday to organize and participate in a 13 mile run/walk throughout the town, in honor of the 13 U.S. troops recently killed in Afghanistan.

Hallsville High School freshman track student Rylie Duke was so affected by the death of the 13 U.S. service members during the Aug. 26 Kabul, Afghanistan airport attack that she organized a 13 mile run/walk in those troops’ honor on the Labor Day holiday.

The 13 U.S. troops were killed on Aug. 26 as they helped to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies as part of U.S. President Joe Biden’s ordered withdrawal from the country. The crowds attempting to reach flights out of the country were attacked by gunmen and two suicide bombers of the Islamic State group which later claimed responsibility. The attacks killed at least 60 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. officials initially said 11 Marines and one Navy medic were among those who died. Another service member died hours later. Eighteen other service members were wounded and 140 Afghans were wounded, an Afghan official said.

“I just felt like putting this together so we could show our appreciation to those who do so much for us,” Duke said Monday. “Both of my grandfathers are veterans and I’ve always had a big heart for our veterans and their families and wanted to do anything we could to show them we care. I’m glad members of the community and other veterans came out to join us today.”

Duke was joined by several of her fellow Hallsville High School track team members on Monday, as well as community members and U.S. military veterans.

Hallsville Firefighters and other community members volunteered to follow behind the runners and walkers in vehicles to make sure the group stayed safe as they traveled the 13 miles around town and back to their starting point at the high school.

One of those veterans who joined the 13 mile hike on Monday was Darren Olach, a 7-year U.S. Army veteran who said he wanted to come show his support for his fellow service members, as well as the Hallsville High School students who organized the event.

“To see today’s generation come up with something like this and plan it in order to honor those 13 men and women that gave the ultimate sacrifice means so much,” Olach said. “When I heard about this event, it made my old stone heart crack a little and I had to come out and support it.”

Olach said he and other veterans he has spoke to are livid with the way the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan has been carried out by Biden’s administration and while troops know their lives are the line while serving, he feels the situation has not been handled safely or ethically.

“I wish were there to be able to help them,” Olach said. “I don’t want to make it political but I was very angry to hear about what happened and to also know there are still Americans there left behind. The words have been spoken many times, ‘no one left behind,’ but this administration did. I just want to come out and show support for our troops any way I can.”

Every member of the group that set out on the 13-mile route Monday completed the trek, some carrying flags and their military gear on their backs as they ran.

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