If he were still alive, Little Rocky Run's Jeff Kaylor would celebrate his 26th birthday, this Friday, Oct. 22. But tragically, he was killed in the line of duty, April 7, 2003, while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
However, he lives on in the hearts and minds of those who loved him and, this Sunday, friends and family members will participate in the Army 10-Miler run in Washington, D.C. in his honor.
"We're running in his memory and hoping to get some donations for his scholarship fund," said longtime friend Jennifer Stein, 24, also of Little Rocky Run. "And we'll be at Centreville High School's football game, Friday night, collecting donations."
Kaylor graduated from Centreville in 1997 and, after his death, his parents Mike and Roxanne established a scholarship there for a graduating senior. His mother and sister Tricia, 27, are running in Sunday's race.
"The pain in our hearts over his loss has not subsided," said Roxanne Kaylor. "[But] we celebrate his love for life, his athleticism, his sense of adventure and his passion for running by participating in the 20th year of the Army 10-Miler. [We] will cross the finish line with our arms stretched to heaven to tell Jeff, 'We made it, Bud.' And Jeff, with his big smile, will say, 'Way to go.'"
Kaylor was a first lieutenant, and his platoon operated multiple rocket launchers to support the 3rd Infantry Division. "Jeff cared about his soldiers," said his mother. "He was smart, he could navigate and he was aggressive."
He was also a newlywed, having married wife Jenna, an Army MP, in July 2002. But nine months later, he was killed. "We both joined the Army to serve our country and knew there was always the possibility of the ultimate sacrifice," she said. "You expect the worst and hope for the best."
On April 7, 2003, Kaylor and his men were on a weapons-scouting mission. "They found a cache of weapons near Baghdad and were ordered to either guard it or destroy it," said Jenna, 25. "They were surface-to-air missiles that had to be launched from vehicles, so they decided to disable these vehicles."
While doing so, she said, "The second vehicle exploded and Jeff was hit with shrapnel in his right eye. It went through his head and brain." Jenna was on the Iraq/Kuwait border then and, like his family and friends, was devastated by the news.
Afterward, she was reassigned to Fort Stewart, Ga., and then to Arlington's Fort Myer, last October. Now living in Springfield, she's in the process of getting out of the Army and has some job offers in government contracting. She plans to get a master's in business administration, probably from GMU, and then "go wherever life leads me."
Jenna missed the signup deadline for Sunday's run, but will cheer on the others. "Jeff and I ran in this event in our junior and senior years at Virginia Tech," she said. "And I ran in it last year." She's pleased that others are running in his honor and hopes it will "kick-start the scholarship fund so it can proceed as it was planned. There was a lot of money donated initially when Jeff died, but no follow-through since."
Currently, said Stein, there's enough to sustain one scholarship for five years, but "we want to make it go farther than that." Kaylor's family will choose the recipients. Contributions may be sent to Centreville High School, 6001 Union Mill Road, Clifton, VA 20124. Make checks payable to the school and write "The Jeffrey J. Kaylor Memorial Scholarship Fund" on the memo line.
"I knew him since fourth grade and went to senior prom with him," said Stein. "And my boyfriend, Jared Storck, was the best man at his wedding. The two of us double-dated with Jenna and Jeff because we knew them at Virginia Tech."
Stein said Kaylor went from the size of a football tight end "down to a sleek, 160-pound runner" before going into ROTC for college to train for the Army. "And he maintained his fitness," she said. "Jenna was on her high-school track team in New York, so she and Jeff enjoyed running together. They'd run all over Blacksburg."
As for herself, said Stein, "I'm not very athletic, so I know Jeff would laugh at the thought of me being in a race. Jenna ran in the 10-Miler last year, in his memory, and some of us went there to support her in her run. Then everyone decided to do it every year. We thought it was a good way to honor him. We knew how much Jeff liked training for it and running in it, too."
This year, five of Kaylor's friends and relatives will run in the event and three will work as volunteers, helping set up the course and doing whatever else is needed. More than 20,000 people will compete. The race starts and ends at the Pentagon, traveling through downtown Washington and past the monuments and the White House. It's open to both civilians and military personnel.
"Jeff's mother and sister are excited about the race and have been busy training for it," said Stein. "And as a group, we made T-shirts for the run with Jeff's picture on the back and the words, 'In memory of 1st Lt. Jeffrey Kaylor.'" The front left pocket bears an American flag and the words, "For Jeff."
Also on the back, underneath Kaylor's birth and death dates, is written what Jeff told to Jenna before she was deployed to Iraq: "Stay strong, stay low and kick ass." As for Jenna, if she could give one message to others, she said, it would be, "Continue to support the soldiers who've deployed and are over there, those who've returned and those who've sacrificed their lives."
Always proud of her son, Roxanne Kaylor called Jeff a "soldier's soldier [who] figured he had a job to do and, to get home, he had to go through Baghdad." He received the Army and National Defense service medals and, posthumously, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and the Purple Heart.
Said his mother: "Jeff led his platoon into combat in support of Operation Iraq Freedom, where he later died in a foreign dusty land where only his soldier friends were able to say goodbye."
The Kaylor family thanks the community for its "outpouring of concern and peace for our family over the loss of our dear, beloved son. He was the love of our lives and a child that brought true purpose to our existence here on earth. Jeff will be in our hearts and dreams forever. Warrior 26, this is Mom; you will never be forgotten."