FORT DRUM, New York – A platoon leader from the 59th Chemical Company coordinated the Norwegian Foot March, a 30-kilometer qualification event, on Fort Drum, New York, July 29.
Spearheaded by 1st Lt. Johnathan R. Marcelli, the 59th Chemical Company brought together hundreds of troops on Fort Drum to take on the 18.6-mile, 25-pound rucksack march.
The 59th Chemical Company is part of the 83rd Chemical Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade and 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command. The Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-headquartered 20th CBRNE Command has units on 19 installations in 16 states that confront and defeat the world’s most dangerous weapons.
Marcelli said he chose to become a Chemical Corps officer to help safeguard U.S. troops against the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards after he participated in an internship as an Army ROTC cadet at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Chemical Defense on Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
“I really fell in love with the technical expertise associated with the CBRN mission and wanted to be somewhere I could make an impact on protecting Soldiers,” said Marcelli, a graduate of Wright State University in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio.
The platoon leader said Soldiers from the 59th Chemical Company prepared for the march with workouts focused on leg, back and core strength and a progressive ruck plan where they alternated between upping weight and mileage every other week.
“The highlight of the march was definitely the turnout,” said Marcelli. “We had almost 550 personnel from every brigade in the 10th Mountain Division, Airmen, cadets, National Guard personnel and civilians who participated.”
Out of the 550 marchers, 346 or 62 percent of the participants completed the march on time.
The endurance march was three laps around Riva Ridge Loop, the central loop in the middle of Fort Drum, which is home to the storied 10th Mountain Division.
Participants who completed the march in the prescribed timeframe before dawn and worked a full day after the march earned a Norwegian armed forces skill badge. The march is open to all service members and civilians.
“Anyone who participates and passes the march based standards for their age bracket is eligible to receive the badge,” said Capt. Joshua V. Lampen, a U.S. Army officer who works with the Norwegian defense attaché to schedule the qualification events.
Lampen, who participated in the Norwegian Foot March in 2013, has facilitated 89 events in six countries and 22 states for approximately 13,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Guardians and civilians since November 2020.
“What makes the badge special and the event unique is its simplicity and difficulty,” said Lampen, a native of Jones, Michigan. “Many other foreign badge events require significant resources, personnel and planning to conduct successfully. The Norwegian Foot March only requires what every Soldier already has: a uniform, a rucksack and a weapon.”
Also known as the Marsjmerket, the foot march began in Norway in 1915 to familiarize Norwegian troops with the tough physical demands of serving in the infantry, said Lampen, a 10-year Army veteran from the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade on Fort Meade, Maryland.
“That we are fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to conduct the Norwegian Foot March and experience a training tradition that has endured for over 100 years speaks to the close bond between U.S. and Norwegian forces,” said Lampden. “The event tests fundamental soldiering skills prized by both our services: endurance, strength and determination.”
The first marcher to cross the finish line at the Fort Drum Norwegian Foot March was U.S. Army Lt. Col. Adam W. Armstrong, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Armstrong prepared for the march by running to and from work every day during the week and taking long runs on the weekend. The battalion commander added that he also competes in “and tries to win” 12-mile ruck marches quarterly.
“That means I’m rucking twelve miles under a 35-pound dry load and for time at least twice a month. Sometimes it’s even weekly, depending on when companies schedule their events,” said Armstrong. “With everyone in every company gunning for me, it keeps me honest.”
A career infantry officer and Army Ranger, Armstrong has served with the 2nd Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division and 75th Ranger Regiment and has deployed 15 times – twice to Iraq and 13 times to Afghanistan.
“With 17 years as an infantry officer in tactical units, foot marching has always been integral to our culture. I guess I’ve just done it so much, I’ve accidentally become good at it,” said Armstrong, a native of Chardon, Ohio. “At the end of the day, it’s about leading by example, which pushes me in these events.”
Armstrong said his Soldiers must have “the skill and the will” to win in combat and events like the Norwegian Foot March keep them ready to fight and win.
“Part of the ‘skill’ is being physically fit enough to move long distances under load. Part of the ‘will’ is having grit and the foot march is one of our primary tools here for training grit,” said Armstrong. “I attribute that to our voluntary turnout of around 235 Soldiers from the battalion. That kind of turnout doesn’t just happen for a badge – it’s an ethos.”
As members of the only light infantry division of its kind in the U.S. Army, Armstrong said his Soldiers have to “be able to move further, faster and with more weight on our back than anyone in the world – and then finish the fight. Our advantage is our feet.”
Armstrong thanked the 59th Chemical Company for coordinating the march and contributing to the readiness of his light infantry battalion.
“The Norwegian Foot March gave us the opportunity to condition our bodies and our minds and our Soldiers took advantage of it,” said Armstrong. “We cannot thank the 59th Chemical Company enough for their efforts. Our Soldiers are more fit and grittier for it.”