CANBERRA, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- A team of Australian and U.S. firefighters are about to embark on an epic 7038-kilometer run across America, in a tribute to colleagues who lost their lives in the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Australia's media reported on Monday.
The "Tour of Duty" team will set off from Los Angeles on Thursday, running through scorching hot deserts, several city centers and past the site of the 1995 Oklahoma bombings, ending up at Ground Zero in New York on September 11.
Australian former Prime Minister John Howard, who will meet the runners when they reach New York, paid tribute to the group on Monday as they were farewelled in Sydney.
"To run across the United States in August and September is no mean feat," Howard told reporters in Sydney. "It's an extraordinary achievement."
The Australian contingent will carry with them a helmet signed by Fire Lieutenant Kevin Dowdell, a member of New York's elite Rescue One crew who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center 's twin towers after they were hit by airliners hijacked by al- Qaida terrorists.
The helmet will be presented at the end of the run to Lieutenant Dowdell's son, James Dowdell.
According to Australian Associated Press, the helmet ended up in Australia after it was given to an Australian army officer who worked with Rescue One in 1998 during anti-terrorism training for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The firefighters will run in relays during the 31-day event, each covering several kilometers before resting and making way for another team member.
Howard said he still backed his decision to take Australia into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars after the 9/11 attacks.
"I don't regret for a moment any of the decisions I took on either of those," he told reporters.
"I'm happy any time to defend the decisions my government took in relation to them."