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August 29, 2012 - Lori Mancini celebrated her 56th birthday on Aug. 25 by running 10 miles at the Crim Festival of Races, every step bringing her closer to her best present ever.

She ran in a T-shirt that proclaimed her as the birthday girl and as spectators yelled, "Happy birthday!" Mancini invariably responded, "Guess what I'm getting for my birthday??"

What she was getting, she found out only the day before, was her son. As Lori ran the streets of Flint, Logan Mancini was in the air, flying home from Afghanistan where he had been deployed for the past year as a sergeant in the Army National Guard.

His plane was due to arrive at 11:15 a.m. at Flint Bishop Airport and Lori, who left the starting line at 8 a.m., kept checking her watch as she ran.

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"It didn't even seem real," she said. "I was thinking, 'OK, he's in a plane, he's almost here. He's on his way! Get to that finish line and get to that airport!' It helped me go faster."

Logan Mancini, a 2006 Brandon High School graduate, joined the Michigan Army National Guard in December 2006 out of a desire to serve his country and attend college at the same time. He graduated from basic training in December 2007.

His mother started running around that time, feeling if her son could endure the rigors of boot camp, she could test her own physical strength and endurance.

After basic training ended, he received additional training until June 2008, then returned to Michigan and transferred from Northwood University to Michigan State University to major in criminal justice. While attending classes, he fulfilled his Guard obligations by serving one weekend a month and going to training when required. He always knew he would be deployed, but didn't get sent to Afghanistan until last September.

Logan was deployed to Meymaneh in northern Afghanistan, where he was part of the provincial reconstruction team. He is trained as an unmanned aircraft systems operator, operating the Shadow aircraft, or flying the drones, as it is also called.

Logan described northern Afghanistan as mountainous, but also with lots of plains. There are only a few large cities, otherwise, the Afghanis live in the countryside, with lots of herdsmen and farmers. He had little interaction with civilians, spending most of his time in the air, conducting video surveillance on roads so land forces would have a better picture of the battlefield.

"Our platoon was credited as being directly responsible for preventing some attacks," Logan said. "That was probably the biggest accomplishment... Some days were boring because the north is pretty calm. The Afghanis are afraid of helicopters and drones. We flew low and loud so they wouldn't come out to play."

Progress is being made in Afghanistan, he said, and there are schools being built and checkpoints. He called the U.S. presence there a security assistance mission now, with the military training them to take care of their own country.

"We were glad to do our part and all they asked of us," Logan said. "The hardest part was not being near family and friends and missing them."

At home, Lori was running for therapy and training for the Crim.

Logan tried to run while in Afghanistan, but had to stop after losing a drastic amount of weight, particularly with a diet of Norwegian food— mostly fish and potatoes— that he didn't particularly enjoy.

When Lori Mancini crossed the Crim's finish line less than two hours after she began, she grabbed a popsicle, found her family, which includes her husband and Logan's father, Lou; and daughter Lindsey, Logan's sister. Joined by friends, they rushed to the airport. Lori freshened up and changed out of her sweaty clothes into a dress in an airport restroom.

"I had washcloths, I smelled all right," she laughs. "I wasn't feeling too bad, a little soreness. My thighs were like tree stumps."

But when Logan stepped off the plane, all she was feeling was relief and she was first in line for a hug.

"I asked for no banners and lowkey and they didn't listen at all," said Logan, smiling. "There were lots of flags and banners and screaming. It was great, though, great to see lots of people wanting to be there. Mom looked great. You really couldn't tell she had just run a 10-mile race."

Lori's next race will be with Logan— the two are running the Army 10-Miler Oct. 21 in Washington, D.C.

Until then, she can rest relatively easy. Her son is home.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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