WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, New Mexico -- More than 6,600 marchers began the 2016 Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, March 20 and Brooke Army Medical Center's team was among those who marched.

The memorial march is held annually to honor those who perished and the survivors of the Bataan Death March, which began April 9, 1942. About 70,000 U.S. service members and Philippine soldiers were forced to march approximately 100 kilometers north to Nueva Ecija to Camp O'Donnell, a prison camp, in the scorching heat through the Philippine jungles. About 2,500 to 10,000 Filipino and 100 to 650 American prisoners of war died before they could reach their destination.

Marchers can select between two routes, the full 26.2 miles or 14.2 miles. Participants can choose to participate in the heavy category, which requires them to carry a pack weighing more than 35 pounds, or the light category, which has no weight requirements.

Several BAMC staff members participated in this year's march.

Army 1st Lts. Chi Wing Pang and John Paul Dugyon, medical surgical nurses on 6W and 7T respectively, participated in the military male heavy category. Pang carried 55 pounds and Dugyon carried 48 pounds, and both finished with a time of 8 hours, 51 minutes.

"This event, to me, means a lot more than physical and mental endurance," said Pang. "Seeing the endless waves of wounded warriors, veterans, active duty military and civilians march through the terrain all for the same reason is motivation enough for anyone to keep marching on.

"Despite the dry desert surrounding us, the endless climb in altitude at parts of the course, and the pain in my feet dragging out of the sand, not many things can be as rewarding as finishing an event like this," he said.

Dugyon credits Pang for motivating him to finish the march last year and again this year.

"He helped push me and motivate me to get across that finish line when my body screamed and said it couldn't go one more step," Dugyon said. "I don't think I would've completed Bataan without him last year, and I was glad we went together again this year."

Army 2nd Lt. Robert Gooch, 3W medical surgical nurse, also competed in the male heavy category, finishing in 7 hours, 36 minutes and Army 2nd Lt. Shelby Aleksick, 4W medical surgical nurse, competed in the female heavy category, finishing in 6 hours, 50 minutes.

The military light mixed team consisted of Army 1st Lt. Phylesha Kemp, 6W medical surgical nurse; 2nd Lt. Autumn Augustine, 3W medical surgical nurse; 1st Lt. Kira Brown, dietitian, chief of Patient Room Service, Capt. Jose Capellan, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Command; and Maj. Trisha Stavinoha, chief, Outpatient and Community Nutrition. The team carried light packs and finished in 8 hours, 23 minutes.

Army Capt. Brittney Piche, registered dietitian, Culinary and Hospitality Branch, also participated with her husband in the civilian heavy category, finishing in 7 hours, 25 minutes.

"Being a part of the Bataan Death March was a humbling and unforgettable experience," said Kemp. "I finished the course with even more gratitude to the heroes who were forced to walk into captivity."

Eleven of the original Bataan survivors were present at the start of the march.
Augustine said prior to the Bataan march, she read "Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath."

"It definitely made the race a more humbling one," Augustine said. "It is easy to think that 26.2 miles in New Mexico is tough and harrowing.

"However, the American and Filipino POWs were forced to endure 66 miles without food or water, and were subjected to abuse and even death. Knowing that they had suffered gave me the motivation to finish in their honor," she said.

"The remaining survivors are at least 92 years young," said Stavinoha. "I am glad to have been able to participate while there are still some of these heroes remaining."

Stavinoha offered the following tip to those who would like to participate next year at the march.

"The POWs certainly did not train for the 60 mile forced journey in the Philippines," she said. "However, if you want to finish before dark and be able to walk the next day, getting your feet prepared for the event a few months ahead would be ideal.

"Marching 26.2 miles in sand is different than running 26.2 miles on the road. You use different muscles and wear your feet out differently and marching with a pack adds another element."

Stavinoha suggests people should also plan for hydration and fuel, because there isn't a lot offered along the march route.

"I highly recommend bringing something with protein, like a cliff bar, peanut butter sandwich, trail mix, beef jerky or a meal replacement drink like Boost or Ensure," she added.