CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Jan. 23, 2020) - Soldiers and airmen here honored Martin Luther King Jr. by completing an overnight 54-mile march-the same distance of the protest march King led from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, in 1965.
More than 120 participants, divided among 10 teams, began the march on the evening of Jan. 15, following a route that circled the entire installation.
Each team continued through the night, trading laps in a relay fashion, before finally finishing around noon the following day, just before the MLK observance held at the Camp Zama Community Club.
Event coordinator Staff Sgt. Carl Council, assigned to I Corps (Forward), explained that in each team, one member had to carry a 35-pound "ruck sack" on his or her back. Before finishing, each team member had to carry the ruck sack at least once. This was to symbolize the struggles King and his demonstrators went through during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Council said.
Council said he thought the prospect of having to complete an hours-long march in the dark, in cold weather, would dissuade most anyone from wanting to participate. He originally wanted to limit each team to no more than five members, but so many people signed up that he could not turn them away.
"We were thinking we may have had to end up requesting one Soldier per unit for the march ... but I was very impressed with the turnout," Council said. "Everyone was excited to be part of the event."
Council himself set off on the march with his team at 10 p.m. King's Selma-to-Montgomery march, which included thousands of demonstrators and took five days to complete, was the main thing on his mind as he walked, Council said.
"It is very important opportunity to understand [King's] legacy and to know the true meaning behind it-to extend a helping hand to someone in need," Council said.
Warrant Officer Albert Newbourn, assigned to the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, who participated in the ruck march and later attended the observance, said both events reminded him that King stood for "what is right, and making people better."
Newbourn said that during the march and while attending the observance, he thought about how leaders in the Army, including himself, have a responsibility to address any adverse issues in their ranks, so that all Soldiers know they are equals and part of the same team.
"It kind of hit home," Newbourn said. "It meant a lot to me to be part of this event."
Sgt. Maj. Kimberly D. McGhaney-Reed, assigned to the U.S. Army Japan Inspector General Office, was the keynote speaker at the MLK observance. McGhaney-Reed said she wanted to make her speech relevant to those in attendance by "talking about what drove MLK, rather than [just] regurgitate his history."
"I tried to convey [King's] message-the significance of being involved, being active, paying attention and actually doing something, rather than being a bystander," McGhaney-Reed said. "I hope I was able to encourage the people in attendance to do the right thing and make a change."