News: Service members march 18.6 miles to give back to community
Story by Sgt. Darron Salzer
LA PLATA, Md. - Soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, active, Guard or Reserve and several community members woke early Saturday for a grueling 30-kilometer test of physical fortitude - and to give back to the community.
Sponsored by the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., service members who completed the 18.6-mile foot march with a 25-pound load on their backs, and within their allotted time, are eligible for permanent wear of the Norwegian Foot March Badge, a foreign award.
“We asked participants to bring in 25 pounds of food as the 25 pounds that they will carry,” said Army Lt. Col. Joe Reale, 581st Troop Command battalion commander.
“We figured that over the last 10 years with the community supporting all of the deployments … it was time to give back to them and donate the food that we’ve asked the soldiers to bring in to the local food banks,” Reale said. “It’s all about [tying] the unit here, the 253rd Engineer Company [Sapper], back into the community.”
Reale said in addition to the food brought to the event, Soldiers were stationed throughout the community collecting donated items.
“We’re hoping to get about 20,000 pounds of food for the food banks,” he said.
Many local first responders from La Plata supported the event, an opportunity for Guard members to work and train alongside them prior to any future natural or manmade disasters.
“With everything winding down overseas, [supporting civil authorities] will become a major mission of the [Maryland] National Guard,” Reale said. “With this opportunity today, everyone knows one another now, knows who to call and we’ll be able to better provide that support when needed in the future.”
“It was great to work with these first responders in a non-emergency setting,” said Army Capt. Alexi Franklin, company commander. “Normally, we only see these guys during an emergency and it’s been great to have a chance to build competencies and relationships.”
Franklin was the mastermind behind the foot-march event and he hopes it will become a yearly occurrence.
“It was something that was ‘hooah,’ and we were able to use it to show the community here that their support really matters,” Reale said.
“The troops here are really motivated, and I’ve heard several of them say that they really feel like they are part of the community now,” he said.