By Sgt. Joshua A. Bowles, 706th Military Intelligence Group Public AffairsMay 7, 2014
FORT GORDON, Georgia - The 707th Military Intelligence "Forward Watch" Battalion sent a team of 12 Soldiers to compete in the 200-mile American Odyssey Relay from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington D.C., April 26. The relay offered the Soldiers a unique physical challenge and the chance to bond with one another while running through some of the most historic parts of the country.
Three months of training prepared the Forward Watch Soldiers for the long distance relay race. Their training consisted of running six days a week with the longest runs taking place Saturday mornings. They had to focus on running a medium to long distance and then running again only a few hours later. The difficult part was getting used to cooling down from their run and running again when they were sore and tired from their last run.
The toughest part of the training had the Soldiers completing three seven-mile runs in 21 hours. Each team member had to prepare to run three legs for their part of the relay with less than 8 hours of rest between their legs. The distance of each leg would vary from three and a half to more than nine miles.
"The training was well thought-out, targeted, and tough," said Command Sgt. Maj. Louie R. Castillo II, the battalion command sergeant major. "It proved to be very effective. By the time we were running in the event everyone was saying, 'Oh, I only have an easy four-and-a-half-mile leg'. Each member of the team knew what to expect and was prepared to meet the challenge. The biggest difference in this event's training was the fact each participant was expected to run, rest (in a van with other runners), drive, run again, and then do it all over again. The sheer warming-up, cooling-down, warming-up, cooling-down, was something none of us had experienced before."
The Forward Watch Soldiers drove two vans from Fort Gordon, Georgia, to Gettysburg, to serve as their rolling homes for the 28-hour race. The team was divided into two groups with one group running the course while the other went ahead to allow the runners to get some food and a little bit of sleep before their turn on the course. The race started next to the Civil War battlefield of Gettysburg and allowed the first runners to run next to the 150-year-old cannons and the monuments built in honor of the thousands who fought and died there in America's bloodiest battle.
The course wound through the battlefield and the town of Gettysburg and moved the teams from one historic site to another. When night fell, the participants made their way through the battlefield of Antietam. The pitch-black route was only lit by the runners' headlamps as they ran past rows of gravestones, tall looming statues and silent dark houses.
"We were out there in the morning in the wee hours, around one or two a.m.," said Spc. Matthew T. Gonzalez, a linguist for the 707th MI Battalion. "Most of us were by ourselves. It's just you and the darkness. It can be a bit eerie. Everyone else has their stories but for me there was fog and wind and general strangeness. It was something that took a little getting used to and might have motivated us to run a little faster."
When the sun rose the next day, Soldiers were running through Maryland to finish the last third of the race on D.C. country roads, through wide open fields, transitioning to parks and forest trails towards the end of the race.
The very last leg of the relay took one of the Soldiers into the capital and to the finish line. Their leg rewarded them with the experience of running past the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials before they brought their team's relay experience to an end. The race finished at a D.C. wharf with music and food to welcome the runners.
All of the Forward Watch Soldiers who participated in the relay agreed that it was a great experience. They said that it was inspiring to run near such historic scenery. They also remarked on how close everyone grew together during their time in the vans, cheering each other on.
"Everyone always says that negative energy spreads like wildfire, but I think positive energy does too," said Sgt. Eric C. Walker, a linguist for the 707th MI Battalion. "Now you have 12 people who will go back and tell everyone how much fun they had and how great this experience was. They will be talking about how running is fun and encourage other people to sign up for events like this in the future."