More than 300 1st Infantry Division, 97th Military Police Battalion, Irwin Army Community Hospital Soldiers and cadets from five universities in the Midwest competed April 13 at Douthit Gunnery Complex for the chance of earning the Norwegian Foot March Badge.
"The Norwegian Foot March or Marsjmerket is a Norwegian armed forces skill badge," said Sgt. 1st Class Orlando Marin, pharmacy noncommissioned office in charge, IACH. "It was created in 1915 for the purpose of exposing new soldiers to the conditions one might expect as a soldier in the field."
The rules for obtaining the badge makes this clear.
"A soldier in full uniform, boots and with an 11kg pack, which would include the rifle, would move a distance of 30km, about 18.6 miles, within a certain time: four hours and 30 minutes," Marin said
The event was a culmination of a partnership between the 1st Inf. Div., and Kansas State University with Command Sgt. Maj. Ricardo Gutierrez, IACH senior noncommissioned officer, taking the lead.
"We are always trying to do stuff together," said Lt. Col. Peter Gray professor of military science, K-State. "We do a lot of training on Fort Riley. They are real supportive of us. This gives our cadets a badge that they can wear the rest of their careers. So, it's really a win-win for us."
Gutierrez said he first learned of the event two years ago while he was in El Paso, Texas, at the Sergeant Major Academy waiting for his posting at Fort Riley.
"I don't think I know of a university and a division that is so close like K-State and the division," Gutierrez said. "So, I spoke with Command Sgt. Maj. (Craig) Bishop, 'Hey I have this idea. I will do all the coordination, I will talk with them -- I just need your blessing and support to run it.' So, talked to him and he said, 'Yes.' I talked to the Norwegian and he said 'What is a good date?'"
To earn the badge, competitors must wear their uniform, carry a 25-pound rucksack and complete the course in 4 hours. If they meet those requirements, they receive the annotation to their personnel record authorizing the badge.
The large mass of Soldiers and cadets proceeded down the road and tank trail toward Old Highway 77 on the northern part of the installation. The mass slowly broke up as speed walkers and joggers left the large pack behind in order to maintain the 15-minute mile pace required to complete the challenge.
As the final Soldiers crossed the four-mile mark the leader passed the sixth mile station.
On the return trip, 9.3 miles down and back, Gutierrez was in the lead -- with a commanding distance.
Gutierrez finished first and completed the course in less than three hours.
"Those hills are deceiving," he said. "It's different when you have the weight on your back. You don't feel it going out, but when you're coming back with 12 plus miles on you're feet and on your body, every hill -- you feel it. They are earning their badge today for sure."
Kansas State University cadet Christopher Vitols crossed the line second setting the course record for cadets in the process.
"It's really fulfilling," he said. "It hurts a little bit, but it's very fulfilling."
The Green to Gold cadet served at Fort Riley as a Soldier of 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., prior to going back to school.
He said being out there with both the Soldiers of Fort Riley and cadets from the schools was an experience to remember.
"I had a lot of friends, other cadets and peers that kept up with me," he said. "They pushed me and I pushed them. At the end of the day if we all finish, is all that matters."
After the two finished, they both dropped their rucks and headed back onto the course to encourage others as they made the final push to the end.
First Lt. Sean Kaliszak, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., 2nd ABCT, 1st Inf. Div., was the first "Big Red One" Soldier to cross the line. He said he was proud of accomplishing the walk in the slated time.
"It's a good feeling," he said. "We came back from [the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California] a March rotation and we're all still trying to get back into it. To be able to come out here and knock it out of the park (is great). I think it was a challenge -- especially just coming back from NTC ... not being in shape we were before we left."