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Feature: Thousands to celebrate Air Force's proud legacy at Wright-Patterson

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The U.S. Air Force Marathon will bring 12,000 runners and thousands of fans, supporters and volunteers to celebrate the Air Force's birthday Sept. 18, 2010, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force art)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- This weekend more than 12,000 runners from around the world will descend on this southwest Ohio base to help celebrate the 63rd birthday of the U.S. Air Force during the 14th U.S. Air Force Marathon.

Shortly after the starting gun begins the full-marathon and 10K race on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010, thousands will run just a few hundred yards from the World War II-era aircraft hangar that is now home to the Sacred Cow, a C-54 aircraft which is part of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force's collection.

Those who wear Air Force blue will recall the Sacred Cow was the first military aircraft to transport a U.S. president when Franklin D. Roosevelt took it to the USSR for the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

Its prominence in the annals of history would be elevated once again when President Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 while on board the Sacred Cow. The act established the Air Force as an independent service, making the Sacred Cow the "birthplace" of the Air Force.

On Sept. 18, 1947, Stuart Symington was sworn in as the first Secretary of the Air Force, establishing the United States Air Force as truly an independent arm of the nation's military.

It seems only fitting that thousands of runners -- Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines and Coast Guardsman, as well as people with no military affiliation -- can gather and say "Happy Birthday, Air Force" here at Wright-Patterson AFB.

It was here that the Wright Brothers solved the final secrets of aerodynamics, learned to fly, developed the first truly practical airplane and established their flying school. Today Wright-Patt is recognized as the birthplace, home and future of aerospace.

The Air Force Research Laboratory continues to envision, research and develop new air, space and cyberspace technologies needed to keep our nation's Air Force at the leading edge. Aeronautical Systems Center people acquire and modernize the aircraft systems that enable Airmen to fly, fight and win. Air Force Materiel Command Airmen and civilian employees direct the full range of development, test, acquisition management services and logistics support necessary to keep Air Force weapon systems ready for war.

Future Air Force leaders receive advanced engineering and management education here at the Air Force Institute of Technology. And National Air and Space Intelligence Center analysts develop predictive intelligence products to keep joint warfighters and a grateful nation safe. Bringing them all together are the men and women of the 88th Air Base Wing who operate and defend the base, and train for expeditionary deployments.

All together 27,000 people work at Wright-Patterson, now the largest single-site employer in Ohio. Many will be present and joined by more than 2,000 volunteers from the community to cheer on marathon runners and wheel racers along the 26.2-mile course.

After the last runners cross the finish line, they can rest and recuperate, knowing their training and sacrifice made the difference, just as it has for all those who serve their nation in uniform.

And if time permits, I'd encourage each runner to look up in to the clear blue sky, raise an ice-cold drink of their favorite post-race beverage, and say a happy birthday toast to the U.S. Air Force.