By Hannah M. Hayner (Fort Drum Public Affairs)July 7, 2008
In honor of Fort Drum's centennial, some 600 Soldiers followed in the footsteps their predecessors took 100 years ago.
Troops from 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment spent about 12 hours June 25 completing a 25-mile road march from Sackets Harbor to Fort Drum.
They gathered at 8 p.m. June 24 at Madison Barracks in Sackets Harbor and listened to some words of wisdom before they began their trek.
Doug Cubbison, command historian, spoke about the historical significance of what they were about to do.
"In June 1908, Brig. Gen. Frederic Dent Grant ... established Pine Camp, today's Fort Drum, north of the Black River," Cubbison explained. "Beginning in June 1908, and continuing until Madison Barracks was closed in 1946, Regular U.S. Army infantry regiments stationed at Madison Barracks would annually perform a road march in full field equipment to Pine Camp, as a component of their annual summer field training.
"That march's route went directly through Watertown, a much smaller town with considerably less traffic than it has today," he added. "Their march through Watertown would become a parade. Citizens of Watertown would hang flags and patriotic bunting from the buildings of the city, and line the streets to cheer the Soldiers as they marched through. The route that they followed is very similar to the route that we will march tonight and is identical in road distance."
Lt. Col. John Petkosek, 2-14 Infantry commander, added another bit of history to increase the Soldiers' vision.
"Since the very earliest days of the Army, Soldiers had to be able to walk to battle and perform their mission when they got there," he said. "When you think about the historical significance of this march, also think about our battalion and our regiment and our history. Think about that 150 years ago, this very week, what the 14th Infantry was doing.
"The 14th Infantry, in (June) 1863, was marching also, from Washington, D.C., north to Pennsylvania, where they would be engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg on the third of July," Petkosek added. "So almost 150 years ago, Soldiers who served under these very same colors were doing the same thing - marching to go where they could accomplish their mission."
Karen Clark, Fort Drum USO director, and Mindy Miller, Operation Yellow Ribbon representative, both offered words of encouragement to the troops.
"The USO is young compared to the hundred-year history of Camp Drum and this region, but we've been with you since 1941, and we're happy to be supporting you today," Clark said. "I just want to look you in the eye and tell you, 'America's behind you.' Make us proud out there on your march, and we'll see you tomorrow morning."
"During this ruck march, you represent the Soldiers of our past, who fought to make this country free," Miller said. "You represent the Soldiers of today, fighting to secure that freedom, and you represent the Soldiers of tomorrow, who will further defend and continue our nation's proud history.
"Soldiers, the miles may be long, but endure - you march the road of honor," she added. "Your ruck may weigh you down, but be strong - you carry our nation's pride on your shoulders."
With those words in mind and dusk approaching, troops moved to an assembly area to wait for the march to begin.
Around midnight, they took their first steps toward home. They each carried a heavy load - an assault pack, body armor and additional weight in their arms, depending what weapon they held. Every Soldier carried between 43 and 65 pounds total.
As troops walked down city streets during early morning hours, community members stood outside their houses and businesses encouraging them, taking photographs, clapping, holding up signs and waving American flags.
"Nothing like this has happened in the community since I've been here," said Ted Sosnovik, a retired service member. "When we saw all those Soldiers, I got goose bumps - it's humbling. It makes you really appreciate them, makes you want to do it all over again."
Another community member, whose children are Soldiers stationed elsewhere, said she jumped out of bed and drove a half hour to cheer on troops when a friend called her and told her about the march.
"I cry and get very sentimental, because I appreciate all of them," Sally Fay said. "People have taken care of my sons, so I want to take care of Soldiers any way I can. If I could go up to each of them, I'd say thank you and give them a hug. I'm just so proud of them."
When Soldiers finally reached Mount Belvedere Gate, they took a few minutes to rest at the old monument site before finishing their last few miles. There, USO volunteers and other supporters met them with hoops and hollers, trail mix, bananas, sports drinks and more.
During his break, one Soldier said although the march was difficult, it felt good to be part of something historic.
"It's cool to be part of Fort Drum's 100th year," said Sgt. Shaun Dunn, B Company. "The worst part of this whole thing is the blisters, but the best part is going to be the finish line."
About an hour later, they were able to experience just that as they marched onto Sexton Field.
"It was worthwhile. We proved a lot to ourselves," said Capt. David Ike, C Company commander. "The last four miles were the hardest, but I felt like training and preparation paid off."
"It was tough. I'm glad to be done with it, but I really feel like I accomplished something," said Pvt. Joshua Daniel Fritz, C Company. "It also was fun because you get to encourage each other and bond with the guys from the team, the squad, the platoon, everyone. The weapons felt heavy, and I'm proud of those guys who had to carry the heavier weapons.
"I liked the historical aspect of it, because my dad has a degree in history," he added. "Going to Sackets and doing a historical trail that guys in our unit were doing 100 years ago was cool, and so was walking down the streets of Watertown with people out there supporting us and cheering us on."
Petkosek said although it was tough, it was one of the best days he has had in a long time.
"It was great to spend time with the Soldiers and see historical places," he said. "We couldn't have done this without the community. Even at 2 a.m., there was a guy out in his yard cheering us on. That says a lot of the community and how they feel about the Soldiers."