FORT SILL, Oklahoma (April 19, 2021) -- On a brisk morning April 17, 16 Soldiers from the 428th Field Artillery Brigade tackled 26- and 14-mile ruck marches at Fort Sill as they participated in the 32nd Annual Bataan Memorial Death March.
The commemoration of the infamous march was sponsored by White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), New Mexico, and the event was completely virtual this year because of the pandemic, according to the event website. Military units worldwide were invited to participate in the virtual edition April 9-18.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” said participant Spc. Kevin Davis, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery ammo team chief. “It’s a remembrance for the lives lost on the death march, and a test of mental fortitude.”
Davis carried a 30-pound rucksack and said he was going to do the 26.2 mile route.
Officer in charge 1st Lt. Evans Labossiere, D Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery Headquarters platoon leader, said he invited Soldiers, family members, and civilians throughout the brigade to join the march for esprit de corps, and for physical fitness.
“It’s important to commemorate the fallen Soldiers of the death march,” Labossiere said. “There were tens of thousands of American Soldiers (and Filipino soldiers) on the 6- mile march in the Philippines.”
Many of those who died in the Bataan Death March were National Guard Soldiers from New Mexico and Oklahoma, so this is a moment of silence for them, Labossiere said.
At 6:30 a.m. Labossiere began a safety brief which covered water stations, medical aid sites, and the routes.
Labossiere designed the courses, which began at Quinette Park. The route went up Knob Hill Road which is a steep climb, across Apache Gate Road and out seven miles into terrain along North Boundary Road and the Rabbit Hill training area. Returning back to Quinette Park made it a 14.2 mile march.
Those who opted to go 26.2 miles then continued onto Elgin Road for six miles to a turnaround point.
Labossiere estimated that it would take four to five hours to complete the 14-mile course, and seven to eight hours for 26 miles. “They’re not walking to get the mail, they are definitely moving.”
Soldiers had the option of wearing their Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms, Army physical training uniforms, or civilian workout attire, Labossiere said. And the footwear (combat boots, hiking boots, or running shoes) was up to them.
Those who chose to carry rucksacks had to have them weigh at least 25-pounds as per the WSMR guidelines, said Labossiere.
After the briefing, Soldiers stretched or warmed up on their own. There was a mass start at 7 a.m.
1st Lt. Kyle Walter, B/2-2nd FA, fire direction officer/platoon leader, said about half of the Soldiers came from 2-2nd FA. “Our Soldiers love doing the memorial runs; we always try to participate in those.”
Many of them were also using the event to prepare for the postwide 18-mile Norwegian Ruck March in a couple weeks, Walter said.
Walter said he wanted his Soldiers to physically and mentally maximize their abilities during the march.
“I want them to break through that barrier and see that they can accomplish greater things just by pushing themselves.”