By Capt. Travis Mueller
“One of my Soldiers went down right after crossing the finish line with full-body cramps,” said Capt. John Lombardi. “I thought it was a pretty amazing testament to how strong the mind and body can be because his whole body was trying to quit at that point and he still willed himself across the finish line.”
Deployed Soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade tested their minds and bodies during a grueling ruck march last weekend hoping to earn the Norwegian Foot March Badge.
Almost 100 of them stepped off late Saturday, carrying the required minimum of 25 pounds while in full uniform and boots. Their goal was to march 18.6 miles within a specified time. That time requirement was between 4 hours, 30 minutes and 5 hours, and based on age and gender.
On top of completing the march successfully, Lombardi organized the event, saying it was a great opportunity to do something unique and foster camaraderie within the brigade.
“For me, it’s getting a chance to see and experience what some of our allies consider to be a challenge,” said Lombardi. “We have a tendency to think that we’re the baddest guy on the block, but some of these foreign award challenges can be really humbling, and I think that’s important when it comes to the way we view those foreign partners.”
Capt. Justin Thomas, chaplain for the 628th Aviation Support Battalion, was the top male finisher with a time of 3 hours, 18 minutes.
“That was by far the hardest thing I have done,” said Thomas, a member of the All-Guard Marathon Team. “The heat, terrain at night and the ruck with weight really played a part. It surprised me how difficult it was and how much it works the body over that long period of time.”
Most Soldiers suffered blisters, cramps, chafing, muscle soreness or all of those at the same time. Although many finished slower than they expected to, Capt. Kaitlyn Roberts was surprised with how fast she finished.
Roberts was the top female finisher with a time of 4 hours, 13 minutes and was seconds ahead of the second-place female finisher Sgt. Briana Barnhill. Roberts was dealing with back pain the week of the event but competed anyway.
“I didn’t think I would get the chance to do it again and wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn't at least try,” said Roberts. “This was the hardest physical event I’ve done in my military career.”
Soldiers also supported the event by keeping marchers hydrated and checking on their well-being. They operated water points and aid stations and drove vehicles along the route to help where needed.
In the end, 84 Soldiers ended up receiving the Norwegian Foot March badge, with many of them saying that preparation is key.
“A lot of people think because they lift or because they run, that this would be easy,” said Lombardi. “I think the general consensus after the event was that it was a pretty significant challenge.”
According to Norwegian army 1st Lt. Havard Boge, the march was created in 1915 to prepare Norwegian soldiers for the rigors of military service.
Certificates and badges were provided by the Norwegian embassy.
U.S. ARMY RESERVE
DEPT. OF DEFENSE
U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY
BEST WARRIOR COMPETITION