NEW YORK – New Yorkers are used to seeing unusual things, but 36 Soldiers carrying 45-pound MOLLE packs got a second look from even the most jaded residents as medics assigned to the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, conducted a six-mile ruck march through lower Manhattan May 16.
The medics started from the New York Army National Guard battalion’s historic Lexington Avenue Armory in the early morning hours.
They headed east toward the East River and FDR Drive and followed the highway south to the Williamsburg Bridge connecting Manhattan to Queens. They turned around and came back.
People along the route looked at the Soldiers curiously and took pictures as they moved through neighborhoods. The Soldiers told onlookers they were conducting training they hadn’t been able to do before due to COVID-19 restrictions.
During 2020, much of the unit training exercises were conducted remotely and focused on online training and administrative tasks. Many of the medics were involved in the Guard’s COVID-19 response, which also kept them from training, said Capt. Mercy Ukpe, the battalion’s physician’s assistant.
Getting back to regular training is a good thing, Ukpe said.
The mile march was in preparation for the annual 12-mile ruck march all infantry units must complete annually, explained 1st Lt. Erik Corrigan, the 69th’s medical operations officer. The 69th normally conducts that mandatory road march during annual training.
This year, the 69th Soldiers will also get the chance to earn the Norwegian Foot March Badge by adding another 6.6 miles onto the required 12-mile road march.
Known as the Marsjmerket in Norwegian and created in 1915, the badge is awarded to Soldiers who cover 18.6 miles with a 25-pound pack in less than 4 1/2 hours.
Usually, a Norwegian officer or NCO must oversee the event to earn the award, but the Norwegian Army has waived that requirement due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. This allows more opportunities for non-Norwegians to earn the badge.
Normally, the battalion conducts ruck marches at military training areas like Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey or Camp Smith Training Site near Peekskill in the Hudson Valley, said Maj. Michael Clifford, the battalion’s executive officer.
But it takes valuable time to get to those locations, so for a smaller group and for a shorter distance, the hike through New York City works, he said.
But the urban environment carries its own hazards, Corrigan said.
“We were concerned about the safety of our Soldiers along the route with the uneven city streets and potholes marching with their 45-pound rucks,” Corrigan said.
So battalion leaders laid out a route that avoided sprained ankles due to potholes or too much traffic.
Because of the urban environment, the Soldiers didn’t carry their weapons for this road march.
Spc. Michael Nigro, a medic who transferred from the active Army to the 69th in March 2020, said he was happy to be out soldiering again instead of training online.
“Remote training that we did was good for medics, but in terms of soldiering training, it missed its mark,” Nigro said. “It’s nice that we are getting back to doing real Army training again.”
The battalion plans to keep marching over the next few months to build stamina and fitness in preparation for annual training, Ukpe said. The marches are also morale builders for Soldiers who have spent much of the past year coping with a pandemic, she added.