By Shawn Morris
Infantry Brigade Combat Team
BAGHDAD, Iraq - It's often said that if you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk.
If the former is truly earned through the latter, then bragging rights belong to participants in the Danish Contingent March around Baghdad's International Zone, Nov. 15.
About 500 service members and civilians braved a chilly 5 a.m. start to the 13.8-mile walk that has been a Royal Danish army annual tradition since its inception during a 1972 peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.
"It's a march that we do in all the missions where we have Danish soldiers," explained Col. Peter C. Alexa, senior Danish representative with NATO Training Mission-Iraq. "We've done it in the southern part of Africa, we've done it in the mountains of Afghanistan, and we've done it in the Balkans.
We're also doing it with every contingent here in Iraq."
Water points, latrines and a fruit stand were set up along the route, and the IZ police were on hand to handle emergencies. The march began outside the U.S. Embassy (Provisional) and looped around a portion of the IZ. Participants had to walk five laps and return to the start point to complete the march.
"When I did the first lap, I couldn't imagine myself doing four more," admitted 1st Lt. Douglas Coppola, a Colts Neck, N.J., native serving as an accounting officer with the Joint Area Support Group - Central Comptrollers Office.
The walk was not easy – even for a gym rat like Coppola – but taking on such a daunting physical challenge was half the fun. The other half came from socializing with an international melting pot of civilians and service members and embracing the march's celebratory atmosphere, epitomized by one Danish soldier who donned a Viking helmet and a U.S. Army captain who brought along several stuffed animals for company.
"What kept me going was walking with people, talking with people. I got to know a few Danish soldiers; for a brief period, I walked next to a few Air Force folks; we were just motivating each other," said Coppola.
"You got to meet the other soldiers, talk stories; you got to mingle with them," added Sgt. 1st Class Juan Plata, JASG-C readiness non-commissioned officer in charge from Levittown, Pa.
Coppola also seized the opportunity to carry the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team guidon during the march. This New Jersey Army National Guard brigade's headquarters company makes up most of the JASG-C.
"It was suggested by one of my comrades to take the guidon, and when I thought about it, I thought it was a great idea," Coppola explained. "I didn't know how many people in the JASG-C were going to participate, so I took it upon myself to ask the company commander if I could take the guidon and carry it through the five laps. [The request] made its way all the way up to the brigade commander, and he thought it was a great idea."
"The thing that stood out were the people who were carrying the unit colors," said Plata. "That's team cohesion; that's esprit de corps."
"I was very happy to do it," added Coppola.
So were the other marchers who crossed the finish line; they received a DANCON March medal , the knowledge that part of their $25 registration fee would be donated to charity, and the satisfaction of having completed a unique and challenging test of endurance.
Alexa expressed his own satisfaction with conducting another successful DANCON March.
"I'm very pleased that so many people chose to participate, and I would like to thank all of them," he said. "If it wasn't for their participation, there would be no march."