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The 20 active-duty soldiers had just completed the Boston Marathon carrying supply-filled packs—some as heavy as 40 pounds—for the Tough Ruck charity event. Then the bombs went off—and they ran to help.
The soldiers had gathered at 5:30 on the morning of the race to walk the 26.2-mile course together, led by 1st Lt. Stephen Fiola. The event is to honor comrades who had died in Iraq or Afghanistan, or from suicide or post-traumatic stress disorder after coming home, according to the group's Facebook page.
The Tough Ruck volunteer was father of Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. His second son committed suicide after suffering from depression from the death of his brother. Arredondo was carrying photos of the two of them.
Then the double blasts went off at the finish line. The military members, along with Arredondo, ran to help save the wounded.
Fiola told Mother Jones:
Myself and two other soldiers, my top two guys in my normal unit, crossed the street about 100 yards to the metal scaffoldings holding up the row of flags. We just absolutely annihilated the fence and pulled it back so we could see the victims underneath. The doctors and nurses from the medical tent were on the scene in under a minute. We were pulling burning debris off of people so that the medical personnel could get to them and begin triage.
The photos on the Military Friends Foundation Facebook page tell the story: from the excitement and pride of the day—Fiola had handed American flags to Arredondo to pass out to spectators—to the horror of the events that unfolded moments after they finished.
Fiola told Mother Jones that their group made a difference. "We had some sort of an influence, at least in helping the nurses get to the wounded and helping calm people down," he said.
A video taken by a bystander shows Arredondo after the blasts, still holding a flag. This one is covered in blood.