'Manchus' honor heritage with grueling 25-mile march
June 29, 2009
"Manchus" of 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, <a href="http://www-2id.korea.army.mil/" target="_blank">2nd Infantry Division</a> and a select handful of special guests honored regimental heritage with a 25-mile movement known in unit folklore as the "Manchu Mile" June 24-25.
The Manchu march started and ended at Warrior Base. In between, battalion Soldiers traversed 25 miles of hills, dirt, gravel trails and hardtop roads amid the northernmost reaches of the Republic of Korea.
The movement takes its name from an 85-mile forced march undertaken by 9th Infantry Regiment Soldiers during the Chinese "Boxer Rebellion" in 1900. A column of regimental Soldiers worked its way from the point of debarkation at Taku Bar to the city of Tientsin, where it went immediately into action in an effort to rescue besieged foreign diplomats and missionaries from insurgent Boxers. The regiment earned the honorary title "Manchus" - reserved for the finest Chinese warriors - later in the same campaign.
Soldiers from 9th Regimental organizations across the Army, including battalions currently based at Fort Carson and Fort Stewart, conduct semi-annual "Manchu Mile" marches to instill pride in regimental heritage, build esprit de corps and develop physical endurance.
The Manchu Mile differs significantly from other military endurance tests in its emphasis on brotherhood, cohesion and unit identity. Subordinate organizations maintain unit integrity throughout the movement. Leaders emphasize the importance of maximizing the number of Soldiers who complete the event rather than individual speed.
"It's not just about individual achievement like other events such as the Bataan Death March," said Lt. Col. Milford H. Beagle, the battalion commander. "This is our biggest cohesion-building event. It's about the entire unit. We begin as companies and we finish as companies."
"This is great for young Soldiers," added battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Raul Huerta, a veteran Manchu and native of Tuscan Ariz. "They have to go a little further than they ever have before - it really challenges them. It's all about esprit de corps, pride and accomplishments."
Manchus also cherish the exclusivity of the event.
"Unlike most marches and runs the Manchu Mile is not open to everyone," Beagle noted. "It's for the battalion and a select few invited guests - and from that day forward, they're part of the Manchu brotherhood. The accomplishment and the buckle is one thing that bonds us uniquely together."
A brief ceremony, including a prayer, safety brief and recitation of regimental history preceded the march. Key leaders, including the battalion commander, addressed the Soldiers prior to the movement.
"The Manchu Mile is not about individual efforts, it is about a team and unit effort," Beagle told his Soldiers. "It is about contributing to a legacy that has been part of the 9th Regiment for well over 100 years - 109 to be exact."
The lead element, headed by key leaders and special invited guests and including battalion scouts, moved out around 10 p.m. Guests included American and KATUSA veterans of previous marches - one in his mid-60s and one in his 70s. Subordinate units followed the lead group in 15-minute intervals, with companies moving in reverse alphabetical order. A Co., the last to step, departed close to midnight.
The night mercifully cooler than the smoldering summer afternoon but "country dark," marchers progressed through the early stages of the march guided chiefly by chemical lights. Navigating winding paths and sometimes steep grades in the dark challenged the dexterity and alertness as well as the stamina of the marchers. Manchus paused for snacks, beverages and a little rest at three stations strategically placed along the route of march. Soldiers refilled canteens, changed socks and clothing as necessary and attended to their feet during the breaks. A robust contingent of medics and support personnel attended to injuries and mechanical issues as required.
The march coinciding with the anniversary of the start of the Korean War - North Koreans launched their invasion of the south during the early morning of July 25, 1950 - Manchus paused for a moment of silent reflection in honor of Warriors who defended the peninsula against communist aggression.
Exhausted by relentless movement along winding trails, hills and hard pavement not to mention a sleepless night, Soldiers marched, trudged, limped and straggled back through the gates of Warrior Base in full morning light - typically eight to 10 hours after departing the previous night.
The completion of the grueling march marked an achievement that ushered many battalion Soldiers and a few honored guests into the Manchu brotherhood. Commanders, enlisted leaders and Soldiers alike cherished the achievement as they succumbed to exhaustion on the assembly area.
"It's kind of a gut-check," said Capt. Michael McCullough, the commander of "Baker" Company, 2-9 Inf. "It reinforces the whole mental-strength aspect of being a Soldier. It shows them, yeah, you can walk 25 miles.
"It's also a great confidence builder, especially for young Soldiers," added the Louisville, Ky. native. "Many of our guys are first-termers and this gives them an accomplishment to take pride in." McCullough's men maintained impressive unit integrity throughout the movement. Nearly last in order of march, they encouraged fatigued stragglers from other units to complete the often-excruciating final steps of the course as they neared Warrior Base.
Leaders and Soldiers alike characterized the event as challenging, motivating and vital to the Manchu identity as well as painful.
"Keeping the young Soldiers motivated enough to complete the mission was the biggest challenge," said Cpl. Jonathon Nennig, a B Co. team leader from Sheboygan, Wis. "It was painful - at times it (was challenging). But they were motivated enough to push through it.
"This is one of the first things they've accomplished in the Army - it shows not only the Soldiers but the whole unit what they can do," Nennig continued. "It shows every Soldier his battle buddy will be there for him."
While the late start helped the Manchus beat the blistering Korean summer heat, it also posed challenges.
"At times, you couldn't really see where you were going," said Sgt. Oliver Bristol, a B Co. team leader from Orlando, Fla. "Obstacles like loose gravel, hills and the mine fields to the sides were even more challenging due to the poor visibility. Keeping everyone together was a big challenge - it's the first time for most of the guys here. They really pushed themselves and found out what they were made of."
The Soldiers of B Co. described the achievement as meaningful as well as painful. While the prevailing sentiment was relief at the conclusion of the grueling event, some also reflected on their role in the Manchu legacy.
"For us to march 25 miles to commemorate what our brothers did - that's what's most meaningful," said Staff Sgt. Steven Myers, a B Co. platoon sergeant from East St. Louis, Ill. Myers added that the original Manchus marched 85 miles "and they didn't have a lot of the fancy gear we do."
"The belt buckle, the recognition is something that stays with you throughout your military career," added Cpl. Stephen Wells, a B Co. team leader from Sarasota, Fla.
Veterans of several marches brought perspective to the latest venture and further enhanced their Manch credentials.
"Meeting the challenge of going 25 miles was the biggest accomplishment," said Pfc. Christian Erichsen, a B Co. infantryman from Junction City, Kan. who completed his second Manchu Mile June 25. "You've done 50 miles for the battalion and not everyone achieves that."
"It's really a gut check and a heart check on what you can achieve and how far you can go," said Huerta, who completed his first Manchu Mile as a young scout serving in Alaska in 1981. "This will give them some perspective. Now they realize what they can achieve."
To view a photo slideshow, click <a href="http://www.army.mil/-slideshows/2009/06/26/23508-marching-a-manchu-mile/" target="_blank">here</a>.