Runner endures deployment challenge

Sept. 18, 2012 --      Running along a dusty, unpaved road, U.S. Air Force Maj. Carrie J. Brant leans forward and meets the rise of the hill she is pushing to overcome on her late-day workout. Brant recalls the beauty of the snowcapped mountains illuminated in the distance, standing in direct contrast to the stark buildings and fence-lined road she tracks along.
     Holding a water bottle in one hand, she takes a hasty drink, before securing it back in the carrier around her waist. The entire time she holds a bulky, coarse rock in the other hand. Brant recalls looking to her left and seeing three children watching from the other side of the fence. As she nears them she tightens her grip on the rock.
     "I was relieved that they did not start throwing rocks at me on that 20-mile run, as the training was challenging enough," said Brant.
     Since her deployment to Afghanistan, Brant aggressively trained for a 50-mile ultra-marathon race. Assigned as an intelligence officer, her duty hours were demanding with 12-hour shifts and the stress of the mission always an ever-present factor.
     "Running for me is the one part of the day where I can let go and refocus my thoughts on a different type of challenge," she said.
Occupied with collecting data and pushing out the information in timely mission briefs, and scheduled numerous meetings, her workouts help her counter balance the tension in the daily mission.
     "There is a real team atmosphere I could count on and it allowed me some extra time to do my longer runs," said Brant.
     As she was scheduling a 30-mile trek - her longest training run on her ultra-marathon plan, Brant knew she would need 'her team' to backfill a few hours of her shift. When her fellow airmen found out how far she was preparing to run, word quickly spread and one of her co-workers suggested turning her training run into a fundraising opportunity, according to Brant.
     What was slated as a normal training run, now turned into a "have-to-do race," she said.
Within just a few days of the idea to raise funds was now a Morale, Welfare and Recreation event. Donations started to pour in, and Brant decided that it would be a good idea to donate all the proceeds to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
     "All of sudden the run had a whole new meaning for me," Brant said.
     "I would be running for Logan, who was only 10 months old, when his father Derek, was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2005 and was a member of my squadron at that time too.
     On the day of the run she awoke early, already dressed to go, having slept in her running gear the night before to not disturb her sleeping roommates.
     With plenty of water, mixed hydration drinks loaded in her pouch, her iPod and ID card in hand; Brant hit on the road in full stride at 5:00 a.m.
     "I was hoping to run about a 10 minute mile pace and be finished by 10:00 a.m.," she said. Two senior leaders from her unit were waiting to see her off as she stepped quickly into the quiet darkness.
     As she approached the 2.5-mile point, the burn pit on base was already fully engulfed, filling the sky with thick black smoke, as she struggled to breathe and find the perimeter roadway in the dense air.
     The subsequent miles started to add up and by mile 14 so did the noise and activity on the road she was progressively moving along.
     "People driving past would occasionally shout at me and being a woman, I was constantly being stared at as well. I just kept running with a firm grip on my rock," she said.
It was on a training run, on this same road a few weeks before this 30-mile challenge that one of the kids behind the fence, hurled a rock at her, resulting in a slash on her arm that left her bloody and bruised, she said.
     At mile 19, the perimeter of the outer fence of the base came back into her sight and a large herd of goats and sheep being attended by a young sheepherder stood nearby.
     "I said to him 'Salaam,' and braced for a rock but he just smiled and said, 'Wa alaykum al salam,' meaning peace be upon you," said Brant.
     Finishing the last several miles, her stamina and energy began to wane. At mile 25, one of her co-workers in the unit was waiting, and encouraging her to finish.
     "I thought about Logan a lot during this run and how other children would benefit from SOWF with the money we were raising and I just kept running," she said.
When Brant crossed mile 30 and finished the challenge, she checked her watch to see that her time was 4:49:36, right on pace, right on time.
With her longest training run of her life now complete, she was just as pleased to find out that she had raised $1,400 for the SOWF.
     "The run was definitely one of the highlights of my tour but the solidarity with my team also made it worthwhile as well," said Brant.
     Six weeks later, on July 28, and back from her deployment, Brant participated in the White River 50-mile endurance run in Crystal Mountain, Wash., finishing with 11:22:40.
Being a drill-status Guardsman, Brant had been on several other deployments while employed full time in San Diego, Calif., with the Department of Justice in the Drug Enforcement Administration.
     Her professional and running accomplishments caught the attention of her group commander, Col. Michael M. Bieniewicz upon her returned to Oregon.
     "Carrie has met and exceed every new test before her again and again," he said.
For Brant, the challenges continue, as soon she will begin a new full-time military position at the Oregon Military Department's Joint Forces Headquarters in Salem, Ore., working in the Counter Drug Support Program.
     Her next ultra-racing goal is another 50-mile race in early 2013 and someday even farther, she said.
     "I have a series of goals and one of them I would like to accomplish is to run a 100-mile race someday," said Brant.