Soldiers from the 249th Engineer Battalion marked Memorial Day by marching 23 miles from U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir to Washington D.C. May 23.
The Soldiers carried 30 to 50 pound rucksacks and delivered wreaths to memorial sites in D.C. The gesture recognized the courage and sacrifice of servicemembers who fought in our country's conflicts with foreign enemies.
"Their sacrifice helped make our jobs easier," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Ashurst, Headquarters and Headquarters Company 249th Engineer Battalion maintenance supervisor and event organizer. "I wanted to respect those that died and those that survived the conflicts."
The Soldiers started preparing for the 'ruck' march in January by hiking twice every week. The preparation and actual march built camaraderie within the unit as the Soldiers spent a great deal of time learning about each other, according to Ashurst.
"A unit that sweats together, stays together," Ashurst said. "This was a great opportunity to get guys together and do something outside of work."
The Soldier's Memorial Day Ruck March route took them along George Washington Highway, Mount Vernon Parkway, Old Town Alexandria and into Washington D.C. Their stops included the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial. March participants were accompanied by a support staff of combat life savers in case of an emergency. Of the 13 Soldiers who started the march, 8 finished the walk. Several dropped out due to work responsibilities or as a measure to prevent serious injury, Ashurst said.
'We have to come back and continue on with our mission at the battalion so the Soldiers made the right decision to drop out and avoid injury," Ashurst said.
Washington D.C.'s landmark sites provided a morale booster for the remaining Soldiers, according to Capt. Scott McCartney, 249th Engineer Battalion S-1.
"Once we saw the (Arlington) Memorial Bridge and Lincoln Memorial, even if spirits were lacking, they picked back up," McCartney said.
The 249th Battalion Soldiers were met with cheers and appreciation from veterans, children and Families visiting the memorial sites, according to Ashurst.
"I hoped we inspired some of the children," said Ashurst. "Hopefully this experience builds camaraderie within the unit and pays homage to those who served before us."
Memorial Day is special in the hearts and minds of Ashurst and McCartney, who have several relatives who fought in wars such as World War II and the Korean War.
"This has a very personal meaning," McCartney said. "It's a good feeling to honor them on this day."
Ashurst agreed.
"Memorial Day is a great day and I'm glad we have the opportunity to pay respect to those who served," Ashurst said. "That's the reason I'm here."