Just when I thought we were at the top of the mountain, the trail we followed made a wild curve and shot up an even steeper incline. I had no choice but to lower my head, set my shoulders and charge like a linebacker up the hill. That was only mile 20 of the 25- mile foot march known as the Manchu Mile. However, some would have you believe otherwise.

"It's just a mile," continuously repeated Lt. Col. Michael W. Rauhut, commander, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, I kept repeating my own mantra: "It's all downhill from here."

Neither of those made the searing pain in my legs any better, but the key to completing any difficult task is mental toughness paired with physical ability.

So, I did my best to focus on anything other than the pain and marched on.

This all started out as a tradition of the 9th Infantry Regiment. The 9th Regt. acquired the name "Manchu" during its deployment to quell the Boxer rebellion in Manchurian China at the turn of the 20th Century.

The original Manchu Mile was to position the regiment for an attack. The regiment landed at Taku Bar, a port, July 9, 1900, and from there they had to march to Tientsin for their assault on Tientsin.

It was a three day, 85-mile trek that they undertook, and immediately upon their arrival in Tientsin, with no rest, they attacked the city. During the battle that ensued, the regimental commander was killed while holding the colors. His last words serve as the regiment's motto.

"Keep up the fire!" said Col. Emerson C. Liscom, as he passed the colors on to one of his troops.

So, in commemoration of that serendipitous expedition the 2nd Bn., 9th Inf. Regt. conducts the Manchu Mile twice annually. Soldiers assigned to the battalion who complete the march three times are awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

The modern day Manchu Mile is about 25 miles, less then a third of what the original expedition was. This year the march started off at Warrior Base and followed along the DMZ for a few miles. It started off as a tradition, but in the end it was about overcoming one of the toughest things I've done, digging deep down inside and pulling out strength when I thought I had none left, thanks to the outstanding Soldiers I marched with.

When I volunteered to participate, I didn't expect to receive any sort of recognition because I wasn't assigned to the battalion. However, at the end of the march I received the coveted Manchu belt buckle and the prestige of being named an Honorary Manchu.

I'll always look back upon the Manchu Mile with pride, knowing that I conquered it with courage. But I look forward to the future as well, to taking on any challenge with the same spirit that helped me finish this march.

"Keep up the Fire."