By Linda Mastin, Pointer ViewNovember 19, 2009
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Nov. 19, 2009) -- While Veterans Day is traditionally a day of ceremonies to honor those who have served and are serving in the nation's military, 1,030 members of the West Point community joined in a 12-mile ruck march to raise money for veterans projects supported through the Combined Federal Campaign.
The 996 cadets and 34 alumni, staff and faculty (both military and civilian) raised $14,830.
The idea started when 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, cadet commander Firstie Claire Heid and her physical development officer, Firstie Michael McGee, wanted to do something special for Veterans Day, so they decided to have their battalion conduct a ruck march.
Word of the march spread up the cadet chain of command and First Captain Tyler Gordy decided the event should include members of the entire Corps of Cadets.
"So over the span of a week it went from a battalion ruck march to a huge thing we opened to the entire Corps," Heid said.
When Heid and her peers thought about the meaning of Veterans Day, they decided the ruck march was an appropriate way to remember and pay tribute to veterans.
McGee acted as the event coordinator, overseeing the donations and helping keep morale up as groups completed the four circuits of the march.
"The event was successful due to the amount of support we received from the Corps. More than 30 cadets volunteered to help staff the event on their day off," McGee said. "Moreover, the cadets participating in the ruck (march) took great initiative in seeking out donations."
When Plebe Ross Boston heard about the march, he thought about his recent deployment to Iraq as a Marine corporal in the 1st Marine Division. He decided that the ruck march would be the perfect way for him to give back to his wounded comrades.
"It hit me that we really do view this as a three-day weekend most of the time," Boston said. "After having gone to Iraq, I decided that I wanted to something significant for the people who served overseas."
The cadet initiative spread to the staff and faculty, with tactical officers as well as members from nearly every academic department getting involved in the event.
With the number of cadets involved, the logistics and support was almost as important as the march itself. Firstie Michelle Cuellar, Heid's S-4 (support and logistics officer), spearheaded this effort.
"I was extremely impressed with the overwhelming support from the USCC S-4 department, who provided us with the supplies, certificates, supplements and Gatorade boxes; the EMT club, who were present in case of any medical emergency; and the many cadets who gladly volunteered to help set up the course, the start point and the check point," Cuellar said.
"Watching the entire event unfold and seeing the number of cadets, staff and faculty support this event on Veterans Day made all the hard work worthwhile. I hope to return in a few years and perform this ruck (march) as a veteran, as we hope this will become an annual event organized by members of the Corps," she said.
Word of the event spread all the way to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the current commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan and a U.S. Military Academy Class of 1976 graduate.
The former 1st Bn., 1st Regt. commander sent Heid a personal e-mail expressing his support and appreciation for how his alma mater has become involved in the ruck march.
"He's really proud of how the Corps has evolved and how we're remembering our veterans, going into an Army at war," Heid said. "It's incredible that support for this event has reached that far."
Company A-1 had the highest level of participation with 56 cadets marching. Company commander Dan Diccicco was proud of the turnout from his company and how the members supported the event.
"We had a big push from the cadet leadership within the company to encourage and motivate people to participate in this event," Diccicco said. "In addition, I think everyone in the company was able to see this for what it was -- a great way to honor and support our veterans."
Heid and Boston both come from military families, and they have seen how much community participation and support groups mean to troops returning from deployments.
"When I got back from my deployment, that's when I really noticed how helpful those groups were," Boston said, "and how the community gets involved when they know about a unit coming back. They get very excited and try to help as much as they can."
Heid was extremely pleased with how the Corps took on the event and made it such a success.
"I could not be prouder of my staff and company commanders for working together to make an event like this happen ... for cadets, this was a way to remember our wounded heroes as well as show respect for the units we will soon join, many of which have lost members in combat," Heid said.
"We had so many participants in the event because, in our mind, there was no greater way to remember our fallen heroes than by supporting their families. The greatest casualty is being forgotten -- this march was our way of making sure that never happens."
(Editor's Note: Sgt. Vincent Fusco contributed to this article.)