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Marching the Marathon for a fallen comrade

They mobilized at 0500 hours, in the dark, wind, and rain. Their mission: 26.2 miles, boots on ground. Nine soldiers in the Rhode Island National Guard, wearing their Army uniforms and carrying rucksacks, marched the Boston Marathon on Monday in honor of a fallen comrade.

The soldiers were raising money for a memorial to Staff Sergeant Christopher Potts, 38, of Tiverton, R.I., who was killed in action in Iraq on Oct. 3, 2004. The memorial will be erected at Potts’s home unit, C Battery, 1-103d Field Artillery, Bristol, R.I.

As Potts’s fellow soldiers continue to honor him – they also maintain a scholarship fund in his name – C Battery is preparing to deploy to Iraq this year.

First Lieutenant Michael Calcagni, 24, of Brighton, never knew Chris Potts. But Calcagni, now a member of C Battery himself, says he was inspired by him. Calcagni and First Lieutenant Ryan Hogan, 24, of Cumberland, R.I., who is also deploying to Iraq with the battery, organized the ruck march.

“One thing we learned was that Chris was a great guy,’’ Calcagni said the day before the Marathon. Realizing how much Potts means to C Battery “gave us the motivation to keep his legacy alive.’’

Monday night, exhausted and soaking his feat, Calcagni described the experience, from the near hurricane conditions of the predawn start to the exhilaration of the finish.

“It was absolutely pouring at the starting point” just after 5 a.m., he said. “It was pretty miserable.”

The soldiers stopped to change socks and apply foot powder at miles 6, 13, and 19. Then, as they approached the finish around 1:35 p.m. to the cheers of spectators along Boylston Street, “everybody mustered up enough strength to jog in,” Calcagni said.

The soldiers marching along with Calcagni and Hogan include Sergeant Justin Bates, Cadet Markenzie Boutin, Cadet Denis Campbell, Specialist Justin Ethier, Cadet Aaron Rozovsky, Sergeant Joseph Turner, and Cadet Eric Wilson.

They began training for the 111th Marathon in January. Meeting every Sunday morning, they would load their rucksacks, weighing at least 25 pounds, and set off. “We started out small – 3 miles, 6 miles, 9 miles ... We gradually worked up,” said Hogan.

For them, the Marathon is not a race; it’s a cause. Calcagni and Hogan marched last year, when their mission was to benefit the scholarship fund. This year, the effort gained momentum, with nine participating, and they’ve raised close to $5,000 for the memorial to Potts, Calcagni said.

Potts’s widow, Terri, and the C Battery commander, Captain Mark Bourgery, met the soldiers when they crossed the finish line. “It’s thrilling ... as soon you see them turn that corner,” Terri Potts said.

“It was awesome watching them,” Bourgery said. “They worked hard to get this done.” Describing how he feels about his men, Bourgery added, “Proud is an understatement.”

Contributions may be sent to the Staff Sergeant Christopher Potts Memorial Fund, 23 Birchwood Drive, Bristol, R.I. 02809.

Bill Johnson, who also serves in the Rhode Island National Guard, can be reached at wjohnson@globe.com.

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