By Maj. Carson Petry, 2ABCT, Public AffairsNovember 5, 2017
CAMP HUMPHREYS, Republic of Korea -- On a crisp November morning, before the sun made its first appearance; approximately 165 'Blackjack' Soldiers lined a dimly-lit street along an 18.6-mile route to memorialize Capt. Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain.
Blackjack Soldiers with the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, checked in Nov. 2 at 5 a.m. to receive a safety brief, race bib, prepared their rucksacks, and assembled together as the multicolored lights of a military escort vehicle flickered and reflected across the formation. After words of encouragement from the brigade's chaplain, the race began.
Being hosted for the second time, the march was an all-volunteer effort organized by Maj. Jason Palmer, 2nd ABCT chaplain, the event has evolved into its second anniversary. Kapaun was a prisoner of war who was forced to march 87 miles to a prisoner of war camp during the Korean War in 1950. Palmer became interested in Kapaun's story around the time he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2013. Palmer was the chaplain for the Special Forces Qualification Course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and enjoyed using Kapaun's impact on others while in captivity during discussions before every Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) C Course's final field exercise.
In 2015, Palmer learned that he was coming to 1st Cavalry Division and wanted to put together an event that connected his brigade's unit ministry team to their past.
"I wanted an event that reminded them of the giants on whose shoulders we stand," said Palmer.
The first Kapaun Memorial Ruck March was in 2016, and it was only 8.7 miles. The length was symbolic; a tenth of the 87 miles Kapaun was forced to endure. A few months later, Palmer heard about the Norwegian Foot March from an old friend and found a way to incorporate a foreign badge-producing aspect to the 2017 event. The event has grown quite substantially.
"I am getting ready to go to Basic Leadership Course (BLC) and become an NCO," said Spc. Arturo Gonzalez, Company F, 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment (FAR), 2ABCT. "I did it to show that any Soldier can do it, and I have to make sure to set an example."
The Blackjack Brigade, split between two locations in Korea, coordinated transportation for battalions north at Camps Casey and Hovey to give soldiers the opportunity to participate in the ruck march. According to some of the participants, the reasons to trek 18.6 miles were as varied as the soldiers and units that took part in the event.
"It was a challenge, and I have much respect for anyone that made it," said Spc. John Wicks, Battery A, 3-16 FAR, 2ABCT.
After two iterations at Camp Humphrey's this year, 266 soldiers completed the ruck march while 224 earned the coveted Norwegian Foot March Badge by finishing according to their gender and age-group time standards.
First Lieutenant Raymond Miller, Company C, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2ABCT, crossed the finish line first in a remarkable time of 3 hours and 5 minutes.
"It's an honor to participate in today's ruck march remembering Chaplain Kapaun," said Miller.
To receive certification of the Norwegian Foot March award, Dr. Nils Johansen, a Norwegian Artillery Officer at the University of Southern Indiana, supervises the event.