ELLENSBURG, Wash. – Kittitas County farmland doesn’t seem like the place to earn a coveted military honor, but for Washington National Guardsmen and Central Washington University cadets, it was the perfect backdrop on their way to receiving the Norwegian Foot March Badge.
Started in 1915 as a test of strength and endurance, the Norwegian Foot March, or Marsjmerket, is a Norwegian armed forces skill badge earned by completing an 18.6-mile ruck march within 4 hours and 30 minutes in uniform and boots and carrying a 25-pound rucksack. Finishers earn a bronze, silver or gold badge – depending on the number of times the march is completed – that can be worn on their service uniform.
Central Washington University Reserve Officer Training Corps hosted the event June 4, welcoming service members to join them for the challenge. Twenty-eight Guardsmen from the 1st Battalion, 161st Infantry Regiment, 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 181st Brigade Support Battalion, 341st Military Intelligence Battalion and 420th Chemical Battalion took part in the hike down the John Wayne Trail.
“Out of the 96 Guardsmen and cadets that participated, 65 passed, including 15 Guardsmen,” said Capt. Jaymar Imperial, assistant professor of military science at CWU. “Three Guardsmen finished in the top 10, so overall, the Guard was very well represented in this year’s event.”
One participant, Capt. Laudy Choum, communications officer with the 898th Brigade Engineer Battalion, raved about the chance to earn his badge.
“It was quite the experience and I really enjoyed going out there and pushing myself,” said Choum. “At 44 years old and coming from the old school infantry mentality, I got into a shuffle and was able to beat out folks half my age.”
While Choum believes the experience was great for his Soldiers and a challenge physically and mentally, he said he was just happy to be one of the finishers.
“My Soldiers came to me afterward and said we need to start training again and earn the next level up on the badge,” said Choum. “I think after being pushed to my limits, I am good with the bronze badge, but told them to go for it.”
The march may become an annual event, bringing service members and cadets together for the chance to earn their badge in Ellensburg.
“We would love to make this a yearly event, offering it up to more Guardsmen who want to take the challenge,” said Imperial. “It was a lot of fun for everyone involved.”