Nevada National Guardsman organizes Bataan Memorial Death March at KAF
March 29, 2011
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - For the past three years, Staff Sgt. Patrick Quinn, an electronics maintenance chief with the Nevada National Guard, has participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. This year, despite being deployed to Afghanistan, he was determined to continue the tradition -- even if he was the only one out there marching.
The Bataan Death March took place in the Philippines during World War II. Thousands died from starvation, dehydration, disease and abuse during the 61 mile march. Since 1993, the Bataan Memorial Death March has commemorated the event through a 26.2-mile march through the New Mexico desert.
"It tests you," said Quinn, Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion. "It helps you to not forget what these people went through. At the Bataan course in New Mexico, when you're at mile marker 18 and there's a survivor with a Gatorade and a banana, It's like wow, this guy survived it, and he marched like 70 miles. It's inspiring," said the 11 year Army veteran.
Nine Soldiers from Quinn's unit participated in the event in 2010. The event is open to civilian and military members and features two categories, heavy or light. Those who opt to march in the heavy category must carry an additional 35 pounds. During all three prior marches, Quinn competed in the light category, finishing with his personal best time of 5 hours, 40 minutes during last year's march.
Once Quinn decided it was plausible to hold the event at Kandahar Airfield he decided he was ready to take on the challenge of the heavy category.
"More than anything I like the challenge," explained Quinn. He said being deployed shouldn't keep anyone from taking part in the march.
Quinn reached out to his unit and eventually released a mass E-mail flyer to see if anyone else was interested in participating. There was an immediate response from the community at KAF, more than 40 servicemembers and civilians quickly signed up for the march.
"This has been on my to-do list for many years, but because of other commitments I have never been able to," said Sgt. 1st Class Idaeth Behar, 368th Engineer Battalion. Behar and her unit work to improve and expand infrastructure at forward operation bases throughout Regional Command-South. "When I saw the advertisements I thought it would have so much more meaning to do it while deployed." Behar and her unit work to improve and expand infrastructure at forward operation bases throughout Regional Command-South.
Behar said it is important for Soldiers to remember the sacrifices of those who came before them because it offers perspective on their own deployments.
"If we can, without being fatalistic, remember the hardships of our brothers and sisters in arms, all of the sudden our job doesn't seem that hard," said Behar. Behar previously deployed to Iraq in 2004 and has served in the Army for 13 years. "Honoring those sacrifices makes me a better Soldier."
The march began at 3 a.m., while most on the base were still asleep. Wearing reflective belts for safety and carrying water, the group of servicemembers and civilians stepped off the starting line together. It would take some marchers more than nine hours to complete, but at the finish line the mood was jovial.
"I'm exhilarated, because I could have quit so many times, and I thought no, no, I'm going to finish. It was a lot of miles," said Sgt. 1st Class Carmen Montes, HHC, 422nd ESB. Montes has served in the Army for 20 years. "It's important for Soldiers to set goals and challenge themselves while deployed. I am so proud of myself. I never thought I could do it, and I just put forth the effort, and I did."
Montes said for the participants from her unit, the experience, specifically the teamwork and cohesion between Soldiers, would stick with them during the deployment.
Quinn finished much slower than his personal record, but he didn't seem to mind. Along the way he marched with Spc. Roslyn Paluay, C Company, 422nd ESB, who had to stop and change her socks after the blisters on her feet ruptured and started bleeding. For Paluay, the race had also been about challenging herself. She said she had never scored 300 on her Army physical fitness test, but this deployment was her chance to focus on becoming a better Soldier. Paluay plans to participate in as many run events at KAF as possible.
In the end, events like the Bataan Memorial Death March are reminders of survival and perseverance in the face of incredible obstacles.