402nd FA Soldiers, civilians brave Bataan Death March
March 26, 2013
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. -- Braving blistering heat and blisters on their feet, a group of 402nd Field Artillery Brigade Soldiers and civilians took on the challenge of the 24th Annual Bataan Death March held here March 17.
The marathon-length event honors the thousands of service members who, while defending the Philippine Islands during World War II, were taken prisoner and force-marched by the Japanese.
All of the 402nd personnel finished the march, some sooner than others. Some had done it before; some had never tried it. Some plan to do it again; others have no intention of putting themselves through it another time.
"I've done it before, when I was a private in 2001. It was definitely a challenge this time," said Staff Sgt. Marcos Cortez, noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the brigade's Information Technology office.
Last time, Cortez did the march with a full load in five hours; this time, with a light load, he finished in seven hours.
"I trained some this time, but I definitely will train more for next year as I plan on running it," Cortez said. "Even so, I didn't do too badly this time. I'm really not sore, but got lots of blisters."
Sgt. 1st Class Jae Haney, the brigade's medical NCOIC, said he hadn't trained for it, and suffered for it. Although he finished in seven and a half hours, he was hindered by big blisters on both heels.
"I did it for the challenge, and because my work colleagues said it would be fun," Haney said. "It was definitely a challenge. It was crazy, and tough, but still it was a lot of fun."
Right now, Haney said, he does not plan to do the march again. But, he added, later on, when it's closer to the event, he probably will do it.
Sgt. Matthew Brewer, section chief for the brigade's Information Technology office, finished his first Death March in seven hours. Not bad, he said, considering he was just coming off an ankle injury.
"It was an awesome experience. Knowing the history behind the march also made it more significant," Brewer said. "The nice thing was that, at each checkpoint, the spectators and volunteers provided us with so much motivation and support."
Brewer's family provided him support, too. His wife and mother were there for him, and he carried his three-year old daughter across the finish line.
This was also Sgt. Richard Hernandez's first time doing the Death March. Hernandez, a human resources NCO in the brigade's Personnel office, stays fit by participating in runs and cross fit.
"I thought it was going to be easier than it was. It was grueling," said Hernandez, who finished in just over eight hours. "My problem was with the boots, and then my extra socks got wet. If I do it again, it will have to be as a civilian."
The history behind the Bataan Death March holds special significance for Donald Dryer, the brigade's safety officer.
"My grandfather fought in the Philippines," Dryer said. "I stuck his ribbons on my CamelBak. I did it to honor him and the prisoners of war who suffered then."
This was Dryer's first time at the Death March.
"I've run marathons before, and did the Nijmegen March, but this was definitely a challenge," Dryer said. "It was humbling for me to see the Bataan Death March survivors and the wounded warriors along the way. I plan on doing it again next year."
The many wounded warriors, including single and double amputees, participating in the Death March also inspired Sgt. 1st Class Heather West, unit administrator for the brigade's Headquarters and Headquarters Battery.
"Just past the 13-mile marker, I met an amputee who hurt his foot/prosthetic on a rock and was really struggling. I helped him to the next mile marker where he met with a medic. He was so disappointed that he couldn't finish, as he said he has done it before with no troubles," West said. "I really stopped whining about my aches and pains after that. It was just so inspiring to see the wounded warriors along the trail. It was not an easy march at all."
West finished in nine hours and 22 minutes and said she was just a little sore afterwards. She admitted to not really training for the event, and also attributed her soreness to having done a Dirty Girl obstacle run the day before. She will train up more next year, she said.
This was Sgt. 1st Class Darren Mayes' second time doing the march. Mayes, who will retire from the Army this month, finished in seven and a half hours. It was definitely challenging, he said, but he was still proud of his time, especially considering he's had two surgeries in the last year. He said he was a bit sore afterwards, but not too much.
"It was a rewarding experience. It was a challenge, but worth it," Mayes said. "Next year I plan on doing it with my 17-year old son."
Sally Tran, a budget analyst with the brigade and a Troop Program Unit Soldier with headquarters battery, also was a repeat marcher. Four years ago, she finished the event in six hours. This year, she did it in eight. Still not bad, she said, since she just gave birth to her daughter two months ago. She had just a bit of pain in her hips and lower back, but, luckily, didn't have any blisters.
"It is a good opportunity to motivate myself. You feel so good afterwards knowing what you accomplished," Tran said. "I wanted to do it again after the first time I did it, but the timing didn't work out, as I was pregnant. This time it just worked out. And I plan on doing it again next year."
But, she added, she will train for it.