Feature Stories

NEWS | Oct. 16, 2018

Young-at-heart linguist, 82, completes 28-mile "March For The Fallen"

By Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Roles Task Force Spartan

When service members and civilians signed up for the Oct. 6 March For The Fallen - a 28-mile ruck march hosted by 28th Infantry Division/Task Force Spartan Soldiers training in Jordan – they had to indicate an age group. Of the more than 100 registrants, only a dozen marked the “45+” category. For one marcher, the plus symbol represented nearly four decades.

The memorial march, a shadow event of the seventh annual one held Sept. 29 in Pennsylvania, drew a wide range of participants. Competitive marchers carried a 35-pound rucksack and tramped in military-issued trousers and boots while other Soldiers and civilians supported the event by running or hiking all or part of the course in gym clothes; with or without backpacks. Abdul Wahid Al Rubaye, an 82-year-old Iraqi linguist who works with TFS medical personnel at the Joint Training Center, wanted to attempt the march (in the non-rucking category) to show his support for both the Soldiers he works with now as well as the service members he has worked with for the past 15 years.

“I enjoyed this today,” Rubaye said, as he sat at the base of a concrete T-wall, recovering in the shade. “I wanted to share their celebration, on this occasion.”


The stamina to finish

Rubaye, referred to by TFS soldiers as “Mr. James,” trained for months by walking laps around JTC, piling up 15-20 miles a day as the MFTF date approached. His age was a concern for the medics who monitored marchers. The course, comprised of two 14-mile laps, ran over a mix of paved road and sandy and rocky terrain in the hills surrounding JTC.

Medics were prepared to treat blisters, sprained ankles, and dehydration. At a briefing the night before the event, they had also reminded marchers about the signs of heat-related injury. And they listed being over 40 as a risk factor in an event that would see half the marchers either tap out voluntarily or be pulled by a medic.

The march began at 5 a.m. and marchers were allotted 11 hours to finish. Dressed in running shoes and matching black socks, shorts and T-shirt, Rubaye stepped off with the other ruckers, walkers, and runners, heading off post and into the pre-dawn darkness.

“The first lap went okay for me; the first 14 miles I did without any problem,” Rubaye said. “But part way into the second lap I felt tired.”
With 11 miles to go, medics brought Rubaye in from the course. It was beginning to look like his marching day was over.

“They brought me back to the aid station. I told them ‘Take me back out,’ to continue the race,” he said. “I have the stamina to finish.”

Rubaye says he understands the medics and event organizers being cautious but admits he was unhappy with their decision not to return him to the desert course. In the end, it was his esprit de corps with U.S. service members that saved his chance at completing his MFTF mission.

Rubaye worked for the U.S. military as a linguist in Baghdad from 2003-07. He then emigrated to the U.S. on a special visa, settling in Hampton, Va. He worked with Marines in Anbar Province from 2008-11, until the drawdown of U.S. troops. He returned to the Mideast in 2016 to work in Jordan, where one of his primary responsibilities is to accompany U.S. medics any time they need to transport a service member to a nearby Jordanian hospital for care not available at the training center.


"I know he’s been training for this...and I knew he could do it."

One of the medics he works with most closely is Sgt. Timothy James (The two “James” names are not connected), a California National Guard medic with 1st Squadron, 18th Cavalry Regiment, 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. James, the medic, says he has developed a good working relationship with “Mr. James.”

“I know he’s been training for this and I knew he could do it,” James said.

“Sergeant James recommended we could do the rest of the second lap here, walking around camp,” Rubaye said.

“We did the last 11 miles together,” James said. “Every three or four miles we stopped and checked vitals. We tried to be safe about it, but give him a chance to finish something he really wanted to do.”

Rubaye and James slowly chipped away at the required 15 laps around JTC, passing the registration table/finish line over and over until the final lap. As the clock tallied 10 hours and 19 minutes, James and “Mr. James” crossed the finish line to the applause of other marchers, event staff and Soldiers gathered to watch for “their” marchers to finish.


"He is just one tough cookie, an inspiration."


At an awards ceremony that evening, Rubaye was recognized for his determination. Col. Robert Robinson and Sgt. Maj. Anthony Mainiero, commander and command sergeant major of TFS Soldiers training in Jordan, presented Rubaye with a liberty bell memento as Maj. Nichole Foley, an event organizer, introduced him to the audience.

“Everyone sees him doing laps around here all the time. He’s kind of a legend,” said Foley, a project officer with Bravo Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 28 ID. “He is just one tough cookie, an inspiration.”