NEWS | Oct. 9, 2018

Task Force Spartan service members march for the fallen in Jordan

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Roles, 28th Infantry Division Task Force Spartan

Task Force Spartan service members training in Jordan honored the sacrifice of fallen comrades through a recent endurance ruck march mirroring the 28th Infantry Division’s annual trek in Pennsylvania. More than 100 ruckers, runners and walkers took part in the “March For The Fallen” shadow event on Oct. 6, a week after the seventh such event was held at the Pa. Army National Guard’s Fort Indiantown Gap.

Soldiers with the 28th’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, in support of Operation Spartan Shield, organized the Jordan event and invited service members – as well as Department of Defense contractors – at the Joint Training Center to participate. Marchers could register in competitive and non-competitive categories by age group. Competitors wore duty uniform trousers and boots and carried a 35-pound rucksack for the 28-mile course.

“It was actually started by Maj. Gen. John Gronski back in Pennsylvania. It’s conducted yearly at Fort Indiantown Gap,” said Col. Robbie Robinson, commander of TFS troops training in Jordan.

“It was first started to honor our fallen, for Pennsylvania,” Robinson added. “Over the years it’s gone international. It’s designed to test ourselves, our endurance, our wit and our will, and to honor our fallen brothers and sisters.”

Participants started their journey at 5 a.m. and had until 4 p.m. to complete the course comprised of two 14-mile laps through the Jordanian desert. Organizers set up water points and had roving teams of medical personnel to keep tabs on marchers as temperatures reached the mid-80s and rocky terrain took its toll on feet and ankles. Putting one foot in front of the other mile after mile posed a mental and physical challenge.

“When your mind is telling you to stop, you just have to stay positive,” said Sgt. Brenda Sant’Ana, the top finisher in the female competitive marcher category. “I just kept telling myself the whole time ‘You will finish. You will do it.’”

Sant’Ana, a supply noncommissioned officer with the 151st Regional Sustainment Group, Massachusetts Army National Guard, was new to endurance rucking but posted a finish time of 8:03:15. She signed up because she wanted to challenge herself. In 2015 she completed the Boston Marathon, with a time of 4.5 hours. She termed the March “way harder.”

“Add two miles and 35 pounds,” she said. “The second lap was really hard. Pushing through when everything was hurting, that was the hardest part.”

Many of the marchers carried the memories of fallen comrades with them as they trudged along the course and bunched-up groups became strung out into solo hikers, pairs and trios. Some marchers wore T-shirts or wrist bands honoring a specific fallen warrior while others carried their reasons for marching on the inside.

“We’ve had a couple of soldiers from my previous unit who we lost to car accidents and suicide,” said 1st Lt. Ryan Slaughter as he hit the 17-mile mark. “I have them in my mind.”

Slaughter, with Bravo Company, 28 ID HHBN, was the top rucker, with a time of 6:28:02. The first participant to cross the finish line in the non-rucking category with a time of 6:11:00 was U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joshua Rasmussen who works in the U.S. embassy in Amman. He heard about the event through a TFS liaison officer.

Event organizers began planning this March For The Fallen in July. An informational meeting was held prior to the start of sign-ups to provide historical information to those interested. Led by Gronski, 28 ID soldiers began the “Iron Division’s” event in 2012 after taking part in a Bataan Death March memorial event in New Mexico.

Of the 116 marchers who stepped off for the Jordan event, 61 participants finished the entire course. Nearly 50 personnel supported the March either by staffing the water points and the weigh-in/registration station or by conducting the roving safety patrols and operating lead and trail vehicles. The support staff was comprised of a mix of soldiers and United Service Organization (USO) civilians.

All finishers received a commemorative bottle opener while the top finishers by age category received a custom-made knife. Slaughter and Sant’Ana received a hand-made commemorative mosaic plaque for their first place finishes.

“It’s a really great event,” Slaughter said. “It stands for a great principle, the sacrifice of those who paid a great price.”