By Susanne Kappler, Fort Jackson LeaderMarch 26, 2014
FORT JACKSON, S.C. (March 26, 2014) Five Soldiers from Fort Jackson finished first in their category at the 25th annual Bataan Memorial Death March Sunday at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. The Fort Jackson military coed heavy team finished the 26.2-mile course in 6 hours, 12 minutes 34 seconds, more than 30 minutes ahead of the runners-up.
The team members carried a 35-pound rucksack through a challenging mountain course. The march honors American and Filipino Soldiers who were subjected to a grueling death march as Japanese prisoners of war during World War II.
Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez participated for the eighth time and served as the team's captain.
"I knew that these guys (on the team) were going to experience something different that nobody else realizes," Gutierrez said. "(It's about) camaraderie, esprit de corps, the love for your brother in arms."
He said the Bataan Memorial Death March is unlike any other marathon.
"(During my first time), I actually experienced something different than any other marathon I've ever done," he said. "It wasn't just about how you did. It was about you paying tribute to someone who went before us. But not only that, they're actually there. ... These guys are living heroes, right there, walking, talking."
The number of Bataan survivors attending the event is dwindling each year. Maj. Michele Kehrle, who participated for the first time, said she met one of the survivors, 96-year-old retired Col. Ben Skardon, who was a POW for four years.
"I hugged him before I marched, and I spent time with him afterwards And that was incredibly humbling," Kehrle said.
To participate on the Fort Jackson team, Soldiers competed in a qualifying event on post. After that, the team practiced twice a week to get ready for the event.
"You have to come into this very physically fit. It's hard. You have to be able to go beyond your physical limitations," Kehrle said.
The team members said it was awesome to win for Fort Jackson.
"I feel like it means that we really rose to the challenge," Kehrle said. "I just think it speaks greatly of the NCOs, the officers who helped train us and of our units who gave us the time to train toward the goal."
Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski said the team executed its strategy perfectly.
"We were going there with the plan of being first, and that's what we did," he said.
The Fort Jackson team comprised Capt. Michael Brown, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment; Master Sgt. Ricardo Gutierrez, Moncrief Army Community Hospital; Sgt. 1st Class Merton Houston, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment; Maj. Michele Kehrle, Moncrief Army Community Hospital; and Staff Sgt. Joseph Salkowski, Warrior Transition Unit.
Editor's note: Wallace McBride with the Fort Jackson Leader contributed to this report.