Nijmegen 4-day march tests military mettle

Rick Haverinen, Story and photo
80th Area Support Group

***image1***A century ago, Dutch Army officers thought they would challenge their Soldiers to walking a century of miles over four days.

Eighty-nine years later, 142 American servicemembers joined more than 4,000 military members from 17 other nations to test their mettle at the Nijmegen Four Day Marches held July 19 to 22 in The Netherlands.

“The first day was maybe 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental,” said Spc. Eddie Perales, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center radiology technician.

The traditional marches began in the Dutch Army in 1907, and it became a four-day event in 1909. There are routes drawn up for 30, 40, and 50 kilometers and each day’s path is different; the third day included seven hills.

The servicemembers do a specially-marked 40 kilometer route each day, departing and ending their hike at Camp Heumensoord, about three miles south of Nijmegen.

“I just wanted to prove to myself that I could still do this,” said Master Sgt. Juan Rocha, 181st Signal Company in Landstuhl. “It’s a challenge and I wanted to show my Soldiers that they can also do this.”

But keeping the all-American teams on the road was the job of a squad of medical professionals. Medics worked 12-hour shifts treating blisters and taping feet to prevent sores.

“This is all about feet because the four-day march is one of endurance,” said Maj. Eric McDonald, and emergency room doctor from 212th MASH in Miesau.

There seems to be a tradition of stunts as teams end the day’s march. A Danish medical unit had to pause somewhere near the end to re-suit, as they marched into the tent wearing surgical caps and gowns over their uniforms.

“The best part is the camaraderie between all the countries,” said Spc. Mary Smyth, Company B, 72nd Signal Batallion, 7th Signal Brigade, in Mannheim.

The fans were very young children slapping high fives with the marchers, elderly residents rolled out from retirement homes, and everyone in between.

“I didn’t expect so much support,” said 2nd Lt. Shilo Velasquez, 5th Maintenance Company, 191st Ordnance Batallion, 21st Theater Support Command. “As you’re going through a village or through the countryside, people are always out in their lawn chairs watching everybody go by … It’s been a really good reception.”

The Nijmegen march fans give away water, ice tea, lemonade, sport drink, apples, sliced cucumber, pieces of sausage, and candy to the marchers.

“I loved that part of it,” said Spc. Geoffrey Marshall, 21st TSC, “because when you’re feeling a little down, and your energy level’s low, you go through a town, and people are cheering. It gets your spirits back up, and through the next few miles.”