NCO stops short of completing Nijmegen to aid fellow Soldier

Story and photo by Mark Heeter
U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern

One-hundred isn’t such a big number.

“Until you actually start walking and feel it in your feet,” said Spc. Nathaniel Stager, referring to the 100 miles in the military category of the Nijmegen March, a grueling four-day event held each summer in The Netherlands.

Stager, a satellite communications specialist assigned to Company C, 53rd Signal Battalion, joined Sgt. Matthew Felker, also with Charlie Company, and others from their unit for the march July 19 to 23.

“Trying to finish that, the experience of fighting through the pain for Nijmegen was difficult. Being able to complete that is something that I really feel accomplished doing,” Felker said. “Well, almost completed.”

On the third day of the march, at about mile 65, something went wrong.
“I was just going and felt a pop in my knee. I thought I was going to be alright, and the pain just spread, and I just couldn’t take it anymore — just collapsed,” Stager said.

“I didn’t feel any initial pain at first. I can do this, I can keep going, I can finish this,” he said.

Never leave a fallen comrade
“Once he dropped out, and we realized he was going to be unable to finish, I personally stepped forward and said, ‘I’m going to stop now and stay with him. I’m not going to leave him in a foreign country by himself, going to the hospital without somebody there,’” Felker said.

The chance at earning a medal was gone. The right to say he did it was gone.
“I personally felt that I should not leave him. There was a medal at stake. There was all the pushing yourself to try to complete the experience of saying, ‘Hey, I finished all 100 miles,’ but at that point, I couldn’t care less,” he said.

Felker returned the next day to finish, but only after having to carve 11 miles out of his total march to aid his Soldier.

“He knew exactly what to do. It was instinctual for him,” said Capt. Jeffrey Keenan, the Soldiers’ commander, adding that the incident illustrated how much leadership surrounds him in his unit.

“It’s there every day. They just need a moment,” he said. “It was a wonderful confidence builder for me. It’s just so rewarding to have sergeants like that in my formation.”