• From left, Maj. Michele Kehrle, Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez, Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston, Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski and Capt. Michael Brown display the Fort Jackson colors at the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

    Bataan 1

    From left, Maj. Michele Kehrle, Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez, Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston, Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski and Capt. Michael Brown display the Fort Jackson colors at the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M...

  • The Fort Jackson military coed heavy team is on its way to a first-place finish at the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014. The Soldiers finished the 26.2-mile ruck race more than 30 minutes ahead of the second-place team.

    Bataan 2

    The Fort Jackson military coed heavy team is on its way to a first-place finish at the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014. The Soldiers finished the 26.2-mile ruck race more than 30 minutes ahead of the...

  • Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski , Fort Jackson Warrior Transition Unit, is on his way during the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

    Bataan 3

    Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski , Fort Jackson Warrior Transition Unit, is on his way during the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

  • The Fort Jackson team meets World War II veteran Ben Skardon, who is a survivor of the Bataan Death March and was a Japanese prisoner of war for four years.

    Bataan 4

    The Fort Jackson team meets World War II veteran Ben Skardon, who is a survivor of the Bataan Death March and was a Japanese prisoner of war for four years.

  • The Fort Jackson Bataan Memorial Death March team poses in front of Andrew Jackson's statue at Hilton Field before travelling to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March.

    Bataan 5

    The Fort Jackson Bataan Memorial Death March team poses in front of Andrew Jackson's statue at Hilton Field before travelling to White Sands Missile Range, N.M., to participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March.

  • From left, Maj. Michele Kehrle, Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski, Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez, Capt. Michael Brown and Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston display the Fort Jackson colors before the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

    Bataan 6

    From left, Maj. Michele Kehrle, Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski, Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez, Capt. Michael Brown and Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston display the Fort Jackson colors before the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M...

  • Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston,  2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, carries the Fort Jackson colors during the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

    Bataan 7

    Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, carries the Fort Jackson colors during the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

  • Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski, Fort Jackson Warrior Transition Unit, pauses at the 26-mile marker during the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

    Bataan 8

    Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski, Fort Jackson Warrior Transition Unit, pauses at the 26-mile marker during the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 23, 2014.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (March 26, 2014) Five Soldiers from Fort Jackson finished first in their category at the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March Sunday at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The Fort Jackson military coed heavy team finished the 26.2-mile course in 6 hours, 12 minutes 34 seconds, more than 30 minutes ahead of the runners-up.

The team members carried a 35-pound rucksack through a challenging mountain course. The march honors American and Filipino Soldiers who were subjected to a grueling death march as Japanese prisoners of war during World War II.

Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez participated for the eighth time and served as the team's captain.

"I knew that these guys (on the team) were going to experience something different that nobody else realizes," Gutierrez said. "(It's about) camaraderie, esprit de corps, the love for your brother in arms."

He said the Bataan Memorial Death March is unlike any other marathon.

"(During my first time), I actually experienced something different than any other marathon I've ever done," he said. "It wasn't just about how you did. It was about you paying tribute to someone who went before us. But not only that, they're actually there. ... These guys are living heroes, right there, walking, talking."

The number of Bataan survivors attending the event is dwindling each year. Maj. Michele Kehrle, who participated for the first time, said she met one of the survivors, 96-year-old retired Col. Ben Skardon, who was a POW for four years.

"I hugged him before I marched, and I spent time with him afterwards And that was incredibly humbling," Kehrle said.

To participate on the Fort Jackson team, Soldiers competed in a qualifying event on post. After that, the team practiced twice a week to get ready for the event.

"You have to come into this very physically fit. It's hard. You have to be able to go beyond your physical limitations," Kehrle said.

The team members said it was awesome to win for Fort Jackson.

"I feel like it means that we really rose to the challenge," Kehrle said. "I just think it speaks greatly of the NCOs, the officers who helped train us and of our units who gave us the time to train toward the goal."

Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski said the team executed its strategy perfectly.

"We were going there with the plan of being first, and that's what we did," he said.

The Fort Jackson team comprised Capt. Michael Brown, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment; Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez, Moncrief Army Community Hospital; Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment; Maj. Michele Kehrle, Moncrief Army Community Hospital; and Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski, Warrior Transition Unit.

Editor's note: Wallace McBride with the Fort Jackson Leader contributed to this report.

Page last updated Wed March 26th, 2014 at 00:00