EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- The Global War on Terror is the longest military conflict the United States has ever participated in. From 2001 to 2021, millions of service members made their way to the Middle East to protect the freedom of those of us back home in the States.
For many Veterans, recalling the sights and sounds of their tours in the Middle East brings back the pain and struggles they dealt with like they were there yesterday. That is true for Christopher Lopez, who was a Marine during his time in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lopez met his brother-in-arms, Cody Stanley, at his first duty station. They quickly became good friends, and considered each other as close as brothers could be without sharing blood.
"He was [a] humble, Texan country boy, and he had a smile that could steal the hearts of many. He was a sincere guy, he was genuine," Lopez said describing him.
The two made plans to fight in Afghanistan together, but Lopez was at the end of his contract, and had to re-enlist. That put him behind about three weeks from the time Stanley would make his way back to the Middle East.
"Knowing that Cody and my old unit would go before me, by about a 3-week span it worried me! Again Cody was someone besides the Marine C, he was my brother."
A short time before Stanley left to Afghanistan, he was able to visit Lopez one last time. Unknowingly, their last words to each other were:
"I said, 'you can't get killed, man. You gotta wait until I get there and well share the moment together.' And he said, 'if I get killed, you have to keep the promise to be a coach and continue to do what Lo-Lo does."
Unfortunately, just three weeks into Stanley's deployment, his unit was under attack, and he was part of the Quick Reaction Force. Stanley, as the leader, made his way down an alley, and stepped on a pressure plate tied to a bomb. Sadly, he passed away.
His brother-in-arms passed, yet Lopez continued on, encountering other incidents, such as a large car bomb explosion that killed two and severely injured two others. He fought in a combat zone about 200 yards away, he estimated, from Taliban enemies, fighting with everything he had.
Eventually, he got out of the Marine Corps in 2013, but it took many years for Lopez to overcome his struggles with PTSD.
"I kept telling myself that I was ok, but even when I look back at myself maybe even 3 years ago I wasn't ok," Lopez said. "Because the person they probably saw wasn't who I am. Because they saw the battles, the PTSD."
He finally decided to make a change for the better, and one phrase helped him achieve that goal:
"Purpose, passion, Cody."
Lopez shared, "instead of running away from the problem, at the time, I decided it was change time, which is a couple of years now, and man I changed. In a great way."
On Sunday, Lopez will run his first marathon for the brothers and sisters who lost their lives in conflicts overseas.
"I have some names for my running, and you can believe Cody will be there," he admitted. Finally, his advice to anyone who may be struggling as he has is, "don't be afraid to reach out, get the help, but also your why. Your purpose has to be on top of why you're going to get better."
The Michelob Ultra El Paso Marathon will take place on Sunday at 7 a.m. from San Elizario High School and end at the County Coliseum where you can cheer him and others on. Lopez will be one of the runners making the 26.2-mile trek to honor those left behind. Good luck to all of the runners.