By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public AffairsApril 14, 2014
NATICK, Mass. (April 14, 2014) -- Already, a year has passed, but three Massachusetts Army National Guard Soldiers who helped save the lives of bombing victims at the 2013 Boston Marathon can still recall most details, as if the event had taken place yesterday.
"Those landmark moments will always be there," said 1st Lt. Steve Fiola. "And it's good that they will be, because you can't change what happened. I can't change what I experienced, but I can learn from it. I don't ignore it, but I also don't focus on it."
When the two bombs detonated April 15, 2013, Fiola, 1st Sgt. Bernard Madore and Staff Sgt. Mark Welch, three Massachusetts natives assigned to the 1060th Transportation Company of Framingham, Mass., followed their instincts and training. They ran directly toward the victims and aided them any way they could.
"I always talk about the switch," Fiola said. "When the switch turns on, as a Soldier, you have to turn your emotional mind off -- not really off, but you just kind of ignore it. Now, looking at it, I'm just amazed that, one, it happened. Two, it's been a year. I think it's all pretty fresh."
The three Soldiers had just finished the "Tough Ruck," marching the 26.2-mile marathon course from Hopkinton to Boston, carrying approximately 35 pounds each to raise funds for families of fallen Massachusetts service members. They were exhausted but in perfect position to lend a hand when the unthinkable happened.
"I still see it pretty vividly," said Madore of the bombing aftermath. "It's a strong memory, that's for sure. It's not something that fades away. I talk to my friends and my Soldiers about it. It's a good thing to talk about it. I mean, it's not something you hide away from."
Welch, who works in Boston, will talk about it, but he said he still avoids the site of the bombing.
"I've only been to Boylston Street twice since last year, and I work in Boston," Welch said. "I still can't even step near that place. I don't want to have it come back, you know?"
Like Madore, Welch had deployed twice to Iraq, but he said that the carnage he saw that day in Boston wasn't the same.
"It definitely is different, because it's your own people," Welch said. "You expect stuff like that to happen in war. You have to live that day to day, knowing that something might happen, in order to do your job over there.
"Here, you don't expect that. When something does happen, it hits a different nerve. You cannot train for what happened (in Boston)."
All three men said that increased media coverage leading up to the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21 has taken them back to that horrible day. Fiola said it hit him one recent evening at home.
"I was walking through my house, and I actually stopped," Fiola said. "I started to run through it all again."
Some of those news reports dealt with new security measures that will be in place for this year's marathon. One is a ban on ruck marchers, which forced the relocation of the Tough Ruck. That was a relief to Welch, but not Madore.
"After they announced the new security restrictions and everything," said Madore, "that's when it dawned on me that I really would have liked to have more closure on the event by being part of it again this year."
Madore said he completely understands the measures, however.
"I would have liked to do [the marathon course] and walk away from there with the same feeling I had [last year] when I finished it," Madore said. "That's for me to deal with, and I'll deal with that as a big boy."
As an alternative, ruck march organizer Fiola came up with the idea to hold the event April 19, on the Battle Road Trail in Concord, Mass., where the American Revolution began on that same date, in 1775. Fiola expects 400-450 service members from around the nation to ruck march the 26.2 miles. Only 30 participated last year on the marathon course.
"To think that we could be on this area where our American Revolution began," Fiola said.
"It's going to be great," Madore said. "Just the history alone, to walk on the same grounds as (the Minutemen), is going to be incredible."
Fiola refused to be negative about not being allowed to ruck at the marathon.
"I don't ever really want to talk about problems," Fiola said. "I want to talk about solutions. It doesn't really matter where we do it. It just matters that we're doing it."
A year ago at this time, these three Soldiers were doing something they never could have anticipated -- treating the wounds of American citizens at the Boston Marathon. They won't forget that day, but they also won't be defined solely by it.
"This gives me a perspective on how frail we actually are and how important it is to take each day and move it forward," Fiola said. "For us, it's always been about moving forward, not just moving on."