JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA - The air was dense with a hazy smoke and vehicles were dusted in a light chalky ash from nearby forest fires when nearly 75 Soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) began their road march for life with empty rucksacks.
In keeping with the Army's suicide prevention theme for the month of September, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st SFG (A) participated in a ruck for life road march September 8, on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wa. to bring awareness for the value of life and promote resiliency within its organization.
"We wanted to do something different than what has become the typical PowerPoint lecture on suicide prevention," said Staff Sgt. Apollo Stoewer, the HHC, 1st SFG (A)'s religious affairs specialist. "This gives us the chance to celebrate life's challenges and recognize the need for resilience."
After the first mile Soldiers placed a sandbag in their previously empty packs as the Chaplain explained the symbolism of the weight all servicemembers carry on their backs; that all pick up burdens along life's path.
Shouldering the now heavier packs, the Soldiers carried their new burden another mile where they added yet another sandbag to their load. Stepping off with packs weighing close to 50 pounds, the Soldiers' spirits were high and everyone was determined to finish.
"This is great, I see what the Chaplain did here," said Spc. Joseph Monreal, a HHC, 1st SFG (A) human resources specialist. I'd much rather do this than sit through another PowerPoint class."
"Soldiers and their leaders appreciate something a little more out of the box," said Chaplain (Maj.) Chris Rusack. "We designed this type of event to engage on a whole different level."
"Nothing reinforces a positive message better than some good physical exertion and even a little pain," Rusack said. "It's not something they're likely to soon forget."
As the Soldiers marched through mile three they loaded prepositioned stretchers with their collected weights and shared carrying their burdens. Rusack explained that some burdens should not be carried alone and can be made easier when shared with others.
"Bringing everyone together and working as a team and supporting each other is how we get through tough events in life, you can't do it alone," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Avila, a supply specialist with HHC, 1st SFG (A).
The Soldiers, and many family members gathered for a free barbecue after the road march.
Col. Guillaume Beaurpere, the 1st SFG (A) commander, thanked the Soldiers for their recent hard work and congratulated them on their innovative approach to completing the required training.
The commander spoke about the relationship between resilience to readiness.
"Our job is a tough one," said Beaurpere. "I need all of you mentally and physically sound to meet the demands of protecting our country."