By Megan Burnham
Joint Task Force Guantanamo
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – Imagine being taken prisoner and treated in a most inhumane manner. Imagine marching 75 to 100 miles though rough jungle terrain while receiving limited food and water with bare minimum rest periods. Imagine seeing a battle buddy fall from starvation, dehydration or wounds and not being able to help him up.
This is the type of treatment Filipino and American Soldiers received in World War II when they became prisoners of war in 1942. The POWs were forced to march through Japan's Bataan jungle in horrible conditions because the Japanese soldiers were not prepared or willing to safely transport or properly feed the approximately 76,000 POWs.
To commemorate those veterans and those who lost their lives, the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps Department at New Mexico State University began a memorial march in 1989 called the Bataan Memorial Death March. The annual event is held at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where participants march the 26.2 mile route over hilly desert terrain. This year the 20th Annual Bataan Memorial Death March will be held March 29.
This is the second year that Joint Task Force Guantanamo's 525th Military Police Battalion will participate in the event, and already the unit conducted the Bataan Death March try-out, Jan. 23, to determine who would make up the five-person team.
"I like the fact that we have the opportunity and the Joint Task Force command supports it," said Army Sgt. Maj. Donald Troxler. "This will comprise long-term benefits that will have our Soldiers being a part of history, being able to remember what our World War II warriors did, being able to meet them and being able to represent our battalion."
To allow everyone the opportunity to participate in the Bataan Death March, numerous categories were made available so teams as well as individuals could sign up. The main distinguishing category is whether teams or individuals want to participate in a light or heavy division. The light division requires the minimum weight to be carried while the heavy division is where participants have to carry at least 35 pounds. Other categories include military, civilian, all-female, all-male and co-ed teams.
This year, the representatives from the 525th will be competing in the co-ed light team with the team wearing their complete Army Combat Uniform with a filled Camelbak.
"We identified that we wanted to allow all warriors the opportunity to participate, therefore we elected the co-ed category," Troxler said.
The 26 Soldiers who signed up for the try-out had done so for many different reasons.
"I'm doing it to represent my company and represent the Army here at JTF Guantanamo," Army Sgt. David Peppard said. "I'd also like to get off island for a couple days and do something fun."
"Mainly just prove to myself that I can do it and for personal benefits," commented Army Pfc. Caroline Thwaits.
The 15-mile course wound throughout Naval Station Guantanamo Bay and consisted of all types of terrain. The competition began at 6 a.m. at Windward Range where the participants first trekked to Kittery Beach and back and then made their way along Sherman Ave. The half-way point was at the top of the infamous John Paul Jones Hill. The second part of the route included hiking back down the hill and marching all the way back to Kittery Beach.
"It was tough," said Army Sgt. Steven Jones about the course. "I had been training with my ruck sack and Interceptor Body Armor so I was a little happy when I found out we just had to wear our camelbak."
The top six qualifiers (one serving as an alternate) will continue training for the 26.2 mile event that includes achieving certain milestones set up by senior enlisted of the 525th.
The first milestone was 15 miles during the try-out; the next will be 18 miles, followed by 21 miles and finally 24 miles. The type of training will be determined by the team during personal training time or whenever the team decides to train.
"There are certain milestones that [the team] will build up to," Army Sgt. 1st Class Onix Rodriguez said. "Those are accomplishments that will increase their confidence and by the time they get to New Mexico they'll already know, 'I did 24 miles, I can do two more.'"
The Bataan Memorial Death March is an event that contains much historical value. A major goal is for people to remember the spirit of helping one another, especially during stressful times.