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Sailor from VAQ-139 takes up Maintenance Officer’s challenge to reenlist at finish line of Whidbey marathon
For a few hours Sunday, Autumn Flaig won’t feel quite like herself.
Not only will she be fighting nerves and fatigue from running her first marathon, she’ll also be experiencing life as a civilian for the first time in eight years.
But only for a matter of hours.
Flaig, an aviation structural mechanic second class at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, recently asked Lt. Cmdr. Jack Curtis, the maintenance officer with Electronic Attack Squadron 139, to reenlist her for another four years.
Curtis said he’d happily oblige, but with a twist.
Curtis, an experienced marathon and ultra-marathon runner, invited Flaig to join him in running the Whidbey Island Marathon Sunday, then reenlist in the Navy after the race.
That set the stage for a small, informal, unusual military reenlistment ceremony Sunday morning in downtown Oak Harbor.
It will start with a discharge ceremony shortly before the 7:15 a.m. race begins near Pass Lake at Deception Pass State Park. Curtis said the paperwork will already be complete by then, leaving only the ceremony to take place.
“Technically, she’ll be a free woman for 26 miles,” Curtis said. “Then we’ll cross the finish line and I’ll administer the oath to her and she’ll be on active duty again.”
Flaig said she can’t wait.
A runner most of her life, she already was strongly considering tackling Sunday’s Whidbey Island Half Marathon. With additional urging, she opted for her first full marathon.
“I’m nervous and excited,” she said.
The Whidbey Island Marathon and Half Marathon will draw nearly 2,000 participants Sunday with close to 1,600 competing in the shorter race.
The races will wind through North Whidbey with both finishing on the Oak Harbor waterfront at Windjammer Park with awards ceremonies beginning at 11 a.m.
The half marathon starts at Windjammer Park at 8:15 a.m., while the marathon begins at Pass Lake an hour earlier. The Deception Pass bridge will be closed to vehicle traffic from 7:15 a.m. to 7:45 a.m.
A 5K run/walk will take place Saturday, leaving and returning to North Whidbey Middle School. That event will start at 9 a.m.
Flaig — pronounced Flag — is no stranger to running, following in the footsteps of her mother, Sharon Reyes, who retired from the Navy.
Flaig, a track and field athlete in high school in Norfolk, Va., once was part of a running club while attending Olympic View Elementary in Oak Harbor when her mother was stationed at the Whidbey base.
“I’ve been running my whole life,” said Flaig, who’s 26.
But never a marathon, although attempting the 26.2-mile journey was something she had put on her “bucket list.”
Urging from sailors with the VAQ-139 Cougars sped up that process.
Curtis, who’s run 11 marathons or half-marathons, kept telling her she could pull it off.
“She’ll make it,” Curtis said. “She has to.”
Flaig’s support network extends to her home. Her husband, Mike, and their two children — Lauren, 5, and Michael, 3 — are pulling for her.
“I know I can do it,” said Flaig, whose never run farther than 17 miles. “Running is something I’ve always enjoyed. It’s tough but it’s never been like a chore. I have all the confidence in the world with this marathon.
“Another big motivator are my kids. I know how much they look up to me. They think my whole running thing is great. My mom and husband are really proud. I want to finish and do well because of them. I know how proud they are of me.”
Flaig is winding down her first eight years in the Navy. She said choosing an unorthodox way to exit and re-enter the Navy is “kind of cool,” but doesn’t think she’ll feel much differently during roughly four hours of running detached from military service.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference,” she said. “It’s exciting to know that I am going to be discharged and if I wanted to, I could run away and never come back.”
But that’s a route she’s reserving for another day.
“I haven’t accomplished everything I want to accomplish in the Navy yet,” she said.
Cmdr. William Fraser, Executive Officer at VAQ-139, said Flaig embodies what the Navy and his squadron desire in a sailor.
Flaig works in the base’s Quality Assurance Division, providing oversight and follow-up to ensure other squadron maintenance work centers are adhering to published procedures and practices. Her role also is to provide advanced level training to other maintainers.
“She is fairly junior to have been placed into the position she’s in — and she’s doing a tremendous job,” Curtis said. “Her level of expertise and knowledge in every way gives me a lot of confidence that she will only continue to excel.”
Fraser and Curtis also have a lot of confidence that she’ll finish the marathon.
“Absolutely,” Fraser said.
“I just hope she doesn’t finish too far ahead of me,” Curtis said.
Flaig smiled at the Maintenance Officer.
“I will wait for you, MO,” she said.
Reach Whidbey News-Times staff reporter Ron Newberry at 360-675-6611 (ext. 5070), or firstname.lastname@example.org