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Friday, September 20, 2013 - 9:12pm
Fort Bliss (U.S. Army) — Fort Bliss’ German Air Force Air Defense Center hosted what the community thought would be the last German-American Oktoberfest Night Run Saturday at Freedom Crossing on West Fort Bliss, but the crowd received a surprise before the race began.
This was the 20th German-American Oktoberfest Night Run, but will not be the last.
Following the pre-run safety briefing, Lt. Col. Nils Wetzel, the deputy commander of the GAFADC, announced the annual run would continue, even as the German unit downsizes. The German officials said they expect to have at least two or three more of these annual night runs.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to show that we have a lot of common values….sharing a good time together,” said Wetzel. “It makes me proud of being a part of the Fort Bliss community.”
About 2,000 people gathered here for the 20th edition of the night run. The event was open to the public.
El Paso residents Frank Corral and his wife, Vanessa, both distance runners, were at the night run for the first time.
“We’ve heard over the years it’s a fun event and we haven’t had a chance to do it,” said Frank. “It’s a nice set-up.”
About 900 runners and walkers were registered for the race. Some ran, others walked the course, and some children even rode bikes, scooters, roller blades or were pushed in strollers by their parents. The remaining crowd was there to cheer-on the participants or to enjoy the festivities.
The overall winner for the males was Spc. Japheth Ngojoy, a laboratory technician at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, who finished the 8K course in 27:48. The overall female winner was Isabel Speer, with a time 33:29. First place in the team competition went to a group of seven runners from 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division who finished with an average time of 32:09.
After all the results were tabulated, the 1st Place male and female runners received trophies, as did the fastest teams. The top three male and female finishers in each of the race’s eight age categories received plaques and German beer steins. The race’s oldest participant was Betty Barrie, 91 who has participated in all but two or three of the 20 night run races.
Franz Huber, a civilian employee of the German Air Force who is a co-director of the race and has been since the event’s first year, was very pleased with how the event turned out this time, especially since last year the runners battled through cold and wind, and this year, the El Paso area had days of heavy rain before clearing up on the day of the race.
“It was a perfect event….we’re very happy,” said Huber. “We enjoy working together, working together with the American side, and having the crowd up here, Germans, Americans, Mexicans, whoever, we enjoy the festivities.”
Besides the race, local businesses set up booths and the German Air Force contingent, which sponsored the event, sold German pastries, bratwurst and beer. There were several inflatable play areas for the children, including a zip-line ride. The 1st Armored Division Rock Band entertained the crowd both before and after the race.
Proceeds from the race will benefit deprived families in the region.
The GAFADC, which arrived at Fort Bliss in 1956, has begun its transition to Fort Sill, Okla. to continue their air defense artillery training mission. The last of the German airmen are scheduled to leave Fort Bliss in 2017.