A group of 27 Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers put on their packs to honor the nation's fallen during a half-marathon in Whitewater, Wisconsin, Sept. 21.
The group of Soldiers carried a half-pound for each of the more than 2,200 service members killed in Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, and ruck marched the entire 13.1 miles of the course as it weaved its way through Whitewater.
Runners led the way for the second annual Discover Whitewater Half-Marathon, but the group of Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers representing units from around the state brought up the rear as they marched the course in combat boots, Army Combat Uniforms and ruck sacks carrying more than 1,100 pounds collectively.
Sgt. 1st Class Charles Hensen, a member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion and the Soldier who organized the Guard's participation, noted the special meaning the Guard's involvement had for him.
Hensen volunteered for a deployment to Afghanistan with a New York National Guard unit from Manhattan - 2nd Battalion, 101st Cavalry. Hensen said the unit, which is based just miles from the World Trade Center, sacrificed dearly in Afghanistan in addition to serving on active duty in New York City in the days following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"This is a big deal," Hensen said of the 13.1-mile ruck march. "I mean my unit alone lost four guys. And it's pretty important that we don't forget. I think all too often people forget."
Hensen and others also pointed out the significance of completing a 13.1-mile course almost 13.1 years after the Sept. 11 attacks and only 10 days after Sept. 11.
"It just kind of reminds me why we do what we do as service members," said Master Sgt. Bryan Douglas, a 23-year veteran of military service.
Douglas had served nine years before the Sept. 11 attacks but was in the midst of a three-year break in service. After the events of that fateful day, the call of duty was too much, and he re-enlisted and went on to serve overseas in a military police company.
He said it was important to pause, reflect and remember the sacrifices so many young Americans have made in defense of our nation in the last 13 years. Completing the ruck march in Whitewater, he said, was just a small way to commemorate those sacrifices.
"It strikes a chord a little closer to your heart if you actually deployed overseas," he said.
Soldiers from the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, the 257th Brigade Support Battalion, 32nd Military Police Company, 135th Medical Company, 1st Battalion 105th Cavalry, and other units joined officer candidates on the remembrance march.
"You can't really put it into words, but to do something like this to at least honor them and give them that respect that they deserve is great," said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Chavez, of the Headquarters Company of the 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade in Milwaukee.
Even some of the Army National Guard's newest recruits wanted to be a part of the day.
"It means a lot," Spc. Bradley Shellhorn said. "I've always had a great respect for all of our Soldiers. That's why I decided to join them. To do something to commemorate those who have fallen is a great honor and a privilege to be a part of."
Shellhorn is a member of the Recruit Sustainment Program in Madison, Wisconsin, and will leave for basic training in October. He was in fifth grade on Sept.11, 2001.
Officer Candidate Elisa Hereid jumped on the opportunity as soon as she became aware of it.
"When I read the e-mail about carrying a half-pound for each fallen Soldier in Afghanistan, it was a really inspiring thing for me, because I knew every step of the way I'd be doing it for my brothers and sisters."
The 27 Soldiers crossed the finish line together after completing the entire course.