CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait -- Army Reserve Col. Garrett Kolo, deployed with the 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), was the top finisher in the Norwegian Foot March competition held here March 7 and March 14.
Kolo outpaced the other 461 participants who attempted the 18.6-mile course with a 25-pound ruck under their age groups’ time limit.
Speaking at the March 21 recognition ceremony before he presented the certificates to the top finishers, Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Justin Swanson, deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, made a point of mentioning that Kolo was 52-years-old, and when he read off Kolo's time of 2 hours and 52 minutes, he stopped, turned and looked at the colonel sitting with the other top finishers and asked, "Is that right?"
Of the 462 participants, 384 finished the course and 328 earned their Norwegian Foot March badge, which is authorized for wear on the Army Service Uniform. Individuals successfully completing their first three NFM's receive the bronze badge, the silver NFM badge for their next three marches and the gold NFM badge for the every march after their sixth.
Swanson, who is also the commanding general of the 310th ESC, said he was grateful for the hard work and dedication of the two lieutenants who organized the event, 1st Lt. David W. Ramer, 310th ESC, and Norwegian Army 1st Lt. Havard Boge.
Boge finished second behind Kolo with a time of 2 hours and 54 minutes.
NFM competitors sought a challenge
Cpl. Anthony Baldwin-Meadows, a utility equipment repair specialist with 101st Division Sustainment Brigade, said this was the first time he had ever attempted anything like the Norwegian Foot March.
"I saw something that looked challenging and I just went up and met it face-to-face," he said. "That last two miles--it got me. Legs started cramping up real bad.
Baldwin-Meadows said he somewhat trained for the foot march. "I did a lot of cardio, a lot of lifting."
The corporal, who grew up in Detroit, but now lives in Phoenix, Arizona, said his advice to anyone attempting the foot march is to have perseverance.
"Once you start, don't stop,” Baldwin-Meadows said. “Just keep pushing through it. It's going to hurt. There is always a finish line at the end, though."
The highest ranking soldier to earn his NFM badge was Australian Army Maj. Gen. Christopher A. Field, the U.S. Army Central Command deputy commanding general for operations.
Field said it was his first time participating in the NFM and he was joined by three other Australian soldiers.
"It is a great privilege to be able to join the U.S. Army in this magnificent tradition," the native of Lismore, New South Wales, said. "There was no way I could just grab my ruck and go at this age, so I have been training every weekend and when possible."
Field said it was wonderful to participate in an event that celebrates the partnership between the United States and Norway and exercise with other soldiers. "It's a great opportunity to show friendship and comradeship between all our forces."
Spc. Owen Bame, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division and deployed here with Task Force Spartan, signed up for the NFM because he wanted to show his pride for his unit.
"My advice to anybody is: practice. Ruck and get out there. Start doing stuff," he said. "I did five miles at a time every other night and that seemed to work out."
Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Justin McKay, 310st ESC, said this was his third NFM badge.
"I did it twice with the unit back in Indiana," the South African native said. "I did it because it is a challenge in Kuwait and for the comradery and the esprit de corps," said the noncommissioned officer in-charge of the 1st TSC's operational command post surgeon cell.
McKay said he practiced with his ruck, was careful with his diet and focused on hydration.
The combat medic said his advice to anyone taking on the NFM is to own it.
"It is your race. Do it at your pace and just enjoy it,” McKay said. “It's a race, but it is also an event."
Staff Sgt. Abel Gordillo, 101st Division Sustainment Brigade, said he was drawn to compete in the NFM for the challenge.
"I figured, why not? I'm always looking for the next challenge and this was the biggest so far," he said. "I thought 18 miles wasn't so bad. I've done the 12-mile in two hours and four minutes, and I figured I could finish this in around three hours. However, the challenges were pretty tough."
The water treatment specialist said he refused to give up.
"When I turned to corner into the arch, it was very emotional actually, but I was just extremely happy that I had got it done," Gordillo said.
Norwegian Army started the NFM in 1915
In his own remarks, as the representative of the Norwegian Army at the recognition ceremony, Boge said of all things he has done, the foot march is the most difficult.
Boge said the NFM was created to prepare Norwegian soldiers for the rigors of military service, which was especially true for the competitors here, who battled the sun and the sand and gravel that made the course more grueling.
The Norwegian Army instituted the NFM in 1915 as it built up its own conscript Army to support the country's armed neutrality posture during World War I.
Ramer said today the Norwegian Army used the foot march, or marsjmerket, to assess its soldiers for their overall physical fitness and to build unit cohesion.
The NFM badge is worn over the name plate on the ASU, he said. "It's got a figure of a soldier marching through the woods with his rifle over his shoulder -- it's a cool little insignia."
The NFM with its two events and then the ceremony were the biggest projects he has taken on in the Army, Ramer said.
"It was a fun experience from A to Z. One of the most interesting parts about putting on the Norwegian Foot March was being able to work with our coalition partners," the Milwaukee-resident said. "My counterpart, Lieutenant Boge, from the Norwegian detachment, was a great help in everything, setting up and making sure we were following all the rules."
First Aid station nurse: 'We had a lot of blisters.'
Army Reserve Sgt. Dalia Navarro, a practical nurse specialist with the 228th Combat Support Hospital, said working the first aid station at the finish line was very rewarding.
"This is actually my first time doing field care for this kind of event," the San Antonio, Texas, native said. "We had a lot of blisters and some ankle injuries, knee injuries -- but not a lot of dehydration. They did a really good job with hydrating soldiers."
Not only did Navarro and the other soldiers manning the aid station address the injuries, but she said they also determined whether some could continue the foot march or had to stop to prevent further injury.
"There were some soldiers who did have to stop, but we are so proud of them,” she said."