For Army Lt. Col. Greg Fortier, visiting Chief Warrant Officer 4 Matt Lourey’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery after the completion of the Marine Corps Marathon, Oct. 27, was the end of an eight-year journey. For it was at that marathon’s finish line, that Fortier fulfilled a promise made on an emotional day in Samarra, Iraq, back in 2005.
Now the commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Fortier was an aspiring Kiowa Warrior air cavalry troop commander when he was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., in summer 2002. There he met, and soon befriended, Lourey.
“Matt was an outstanding aviator and a ‘late-blooming’ runner who often talked about his desire to finish 50 marathons before July 28th, 2014, the day he would have turned 50.” Fortier said. “He had already finished 39 and I had no doubt he would complete his goal.”
In June 2004, after a successful tour in Iraq, Lourey had received permanent change of station orders to serve at Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir, Va., and was making plans with his wife — from whom he’d been separated geographically for a few years — to finish out his career in the Washington, D.C., area, Fortier explained.
“But when he learned that the squadron was once again deploying in November, 2004, he didn’t hesitate to place the needs of his country ahead of his, choosing to fight alongside his air cavalry brothers,” he said.
Fortier vividly recalls the evening they got word Lourey was shot down and killed.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “May 26, 2005; just before 11 p.m. I had finished my mission for the evening and was heading back to our operations center. When I walked in, I got a call from our squadron headquarters with the news. My air cavalry troop was operating about 175 miles north of the squadron in the city of Mosul at the time. I have never felt more helpless. There was nothing we could do except wait for the opportunity to honor him.”
Lourey was pronounced dead on May 27. An early morning memorial service was held six days later at Forward Operating Base McKenzie, and Fortier flew from Mosul to Samarra to honor his fallen friend.
“I walked up to the presentation of the helmet, rifle and boots,” he said. “I put down our troop patch, said a prayer, and then it came to me. I should finish Matt’s marathons for him. I figured it was the least I could do to honor his legacy.”
Fortier had run some 10K races and even managed to finish a few half-marathons with Lourey over the years, but he was by no means a seasoned distance runner.
“I knew it would be a challenge for me to run 11 marathons before 2014, especially with the deployments and my pending test pilot school training,” he said.
Fortier began marathon training, mostly in the early morning, running up to 50 miles per week. He learned a lot about his body in the process and even more about marathon strategy.
“During the first few races I started too fast and paid the price at the end, learning quickly to respect the race’s distance,” he said. “Other times, I started too slow and ran out of ‘gas,’ learning the importance of properly fueling my body.”
Fortier’s wife, Angela, and their two daughters played a big part as his support team and it helped him, during his marathon efforts, to spot them cheering from the sidelines. They were there as he raced all over the country, from San Diego to Virginia Beach and from Minneapolis to Orlando. Ten races in 9 cities.
At the start of each race, Fortier never writes his own name on his race bib, preferring instead to scrawl the words, “For Matt.”
By finishing the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon, Fortier has logged nearly 10,000 miles in training and “raced” a little more than 288 miles — one foot-pounding stride at a time — all in honor of his friend and fulfilling his promise to complete Lourey’s 50 marathons, nine months shy of what would’ve been his 50th birthday.
“It was all for him.” Fortier said. “And, hopefully, anyone who reads this will pause a moment to remember those great Americans who served with such honor; many never making it back to their loved ones.”