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Face of Defense: Marine Runs Marathon on Treadmill at Sea

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He was perhaps the very first finisher of the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, but he didn’t finish anywhere near Arlington, Virginia. Instead, he finished at sea aboard the USS New York -- on a treadmill.

Marine Corps 1st Lt. Thomas Heemer, the logistics officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 24, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, finished the 2014 edition of the Marine Corps Marathon at 12:30 a.m. Oct. 26, hours ahead of the official beginning of the annual run. Instead of running alongside tens of thousands of fellow Marines, service members and competitors on a cool Virginia morning, he ran mostly alone, on a treadmill crammed into an out-of-the-way corner just off one of the New York’s passageways, cleverly named and affectionately known as “Broadway.”

Although this was Heemer’s first marathon on a ship or on a treadmill, it wasn’t his first Marine Corps Marathon. His first was in 2009, and the 25-year-old Penn State graduate has run the annual event every year since.

“I knew I might be embarked on ship this year, but I signed up anyway just in case,” he said. “I thought it would be silly to let the Marine Corps break my Marine Corps Marathon streak, so I decided I would run it aboard the ship.”

Support From Others Aboard the Ship

He said the hardest part was running without the camaraderie of other participants and without the spectators, who have always been there to cheer him on during the last five years. Still, he wasn’t without his share of support.

“I had some friends there with me. A lot of the other lieutenants took turns helping me out, running alongside me, and my logistics chief, Gunnery Sergeant Pangelinan, was there to push me through also,” he said.

Timing the Run to Accommodate Duty

Heemer started the marathon before midnight so he could finish on the actual day of the marathon and still perform his duties the following morning. Aside from being Marine Corps Marathon day, it also was the day of a large-scale amphibious assault, the culminating event of the 24th MEU’s pre-deployment training program.

As if that wasn’t enough for the Philadelphia native, his battalion also was in the final planning stages of a massive debarkation from the ships of the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where CLB 24 was scheduled to spend a week conducting an additional training exercise in the field.

The 24th MEU has been in a near-constant training cycle since the end of May, so the schedule has not been conducive for marathon training.

“Not one second,” Heemer answered without hesitation when asked how often he trained for this year’s marathon. “But that didn’t matter. Last year, I met a guy who had patches from over 25 consecutive years of running the marathon, and I decided I wanted to do the same.”

A Special Reason for Dedication

There is one other reason for his dedication to the Marine Corps Marathon. Three years ago, Heemer decided to run the marathon as a part of Team Travis and Brendan, named after two Naval Academy roommates who were killed in separate events while supporting combat operations overseas. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Travis Manion was killed by sniper fire in Iraq’s Anbar province in 2007, and Navy Lt. Brendan Looney, a SEAL, was killed in 2010 when his helicopter crashed in Afghanistan.

The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, where every Marine officer spends six months learning how to lead infantry Marines in combat, has a barracks named after Manion.

“Manion Hall was being built while I was at TBS, and I remember reading the plaque in front of the building,” Heemer said. “I did some research and really liked what the foundation stood for, so I decided to join the effort.”

Considering the USS New York was built with 7 and a half tons of steel from the World Trade Center, perhaps it’s fitting that at least one Marine ran all 26.2 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon within the ship’s hull, representing a Marine and a sailor who died fighting the nation’s enemies. And even though it was on a treadmill crammed into a corner off “Broadway,” Heemer still managed to finish under the four-hour mark.

Heemer and the rest of the 24th MEU will take a couple weeks of well-deserved time off during November before their deployment at the end of the year. The 24th MEU is scheduled to support operations in the U.S. Africa and Central Command areas of responsibility.

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