Walking tall: Syracuse Army ROTC set to march in Boston Marathon for charity

first_img Published on April 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm Comments At 6 a.m. on the Erie Canal Trail two weeks ago, 13 members of the Syracuse University Army ROTC stood in unison, eager to take the first collective step on their assigned 20-mile march. Six hours later, right around noon, those same exhausted students made one last coordinated stride toward the finish mark, mastering an approach that is rarely seen during competitive races.  Unity. ‘You don’t see a lot of people doing what we’re doing, marching as a group in a big race, so it’s special,’ said sophomore ROTC member Josh Kerwood. ‘We strive to finish as a team. It’s important for us to have camaraderie so we can march that long distance with rucks on our backs.’ The Army ROTC at Syracuse University will ‘ruck march’ in the Boston Marathon on Monday to raise awareness for wounded veterans who have returned from combat. Ruck marching includes a band of people shuffling their feet together over a long distance while carrying a ‘ruck’ or heavy backpack filled with 40 pounds of special equipment.    The SU group will march as a single unit, carrying weighted rucks on their backs to reinforce a sense of unity and mental toughness.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text For the first time in program history, the SU Army ROTC will partner with Team Red, White & Blue, a nonprofit organization composed of wounded veterans, advocates athletes and supporters whose goal is to gain recognition for both men and women returning home from war. The SU Army ROTC marched in the marathon two years ago, but this year, the group wants to leave its mark through a charity effort. As future Army officers, they want to extend a helping hand to the community while also preparing themselves for a position in the Army. Through online fundraising and friendly donations, the ROTC team has already raised $1,645 this year, ROTC junior Tyler Cowan said. In the 2010 Boston Marathon, seven ROTC cadets marched in sync, side by side. Going at such a slow pace – roughly 15 minutes per mile – requires each cadet to train at the highest degree. Kerwood said the team has held close to 75 training sessions, consisting of ruck marches at nine, 12, 16 and 20 miles, to prepare themselves physically for the race. The group members also began stuffing their ruck sacks to add more weight during practice. Robbie Edgin, an Army ROTC junior who participated in the marathon in 2010, said the team marched with 55-pound rucks, adding 15 pounds with various items, including wet water gear, tents and blankets. The extra weight helped the members get accustomed to the demanding conditions.  The Boston Marathon, at 26.2 miles, is one of the world’s most legendary marathons. It is a grueling test of physical strength and mental toughness for its competitors. An additional 40 pounds of equipment dangling from the participants’ backs only makes it tougher. ‘There is nothing like ruck marching. It’s a completely different world,’ Army ROTC junior Ben Willens said. ‘Even playing high school sports, I was one of the top runners in my state running track, but this is just a whole new ball game. The physical exertion you have to put your body through is a lot.’ The significance of the march, however, lies within the unity of its members. In a race in which many are focused on winning, the ROTC cadets are focused on helping one another each step of the way. Instead of thinking about themselves, they are thinking about the well-being of their fellow cadets and former veterans. ‘No one is physically running. We’re marching,’ Kerwood said. ‘We’re doing roughly 15 minutes per mile, but we’re staying together, and we all have weight on our backs. It shows more impact to the crowd when you see a group of guys lined up side by side going along at a steady pace.’ It is not the red and blue patches, or even the worn combat boots that bind them. It is their proven sense of camaraderie. Encompassed in the ROTC’s warrior ethos – ‘I will never leave a fallen comrade’ – camaraderie is drilled into each cadet’s head during their time in the ROTC program. For Willens, it started as a freshman living in the ROTC learning community in Flint Hall with fellow members Edgin and Cowan. The three began to strengthen a bond that has provided them an outlet during difficult times. ‘It goes back to brotherhood. You’ll bend over backward for these guys,’ Edgin said. ‘Even on the weekends when you’re not in ROTC mode, if someone calls and asks for a ride, you go pick that person up and help them out.’ As the officer in charge of formation, Kerwood said he is responsible for constantly staying aware of his surroundings during the marathon. If a member is struggling, he will offer assistance, even if it means saddling an extra ruck to his back. Two years ago, the Army ROTC wasn’t marching for anything. Now, the group is marching for a cause. Though most competitors gain self-fulfillment from completing the Boston Marathon as an individual, Edgin and his fellow cadets are hoping to accomplish more than just personal goals. And they plan to do that one collective step at a time. ‘We don’t want to leave anyone behind,’ Edgin said ‘This isn’t an individual event for us. We’re traveling down to Boston as a team. We start as a team, and we’re going to finish as a team.’ awmirmin@syr.educenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more