29th annual Bataan Memorial Death March
By Senior Airman Cody Dowell, Altus Air Force Base Public Affairs
/ Published April 04, 2018
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
During World War II, United States and Filipino soldiers were forced to march more than 60 miles through the scorching jungles of the Philippines. 75 years later we continue to honor them with the annual Bataan Memorial Death March in White Sands, N.M.
Five members from Altus AFB came together to participate in the 29th annual Bataan Memorial Death March, March 25, 2018. Honoring the soldiers who sacrificed their freedom, health, and in many cases their lives.
“There were several different divisions participating at this event,” said U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Dylan Columbia, project manager assigned to the 97th Civil Engineer Squadron. “There were individuals, teams, military and civilian participants and then you could choose to go light with no additional gear or heavy requiring participants to wear a 35-pound rucksack. We decided to go light because not all of us have done something like this, but working out regularly we felt confident.”
The Altus AFB team consisted of Capt. Ro’Maine Pryor, Capt. Michael Johnson, 1st Lt. Hector Perezramos, 2nd Lt. Dylan Columbia and 2nd Lt. Ioan Gaitan. The other participants of the march varied from all branches of the military, veterans, and civilians.
“It was inspiring to see all of the retirees and wounded warriors running past us during the march,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Romaine Pryor, a logistics officer assigned to the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “The whole march was about comradery and honoring those who endured the real march. Three of the people who participated in the march were actual survivors of the original march.”
For many on the Altus AFB team, this their first time participating in a strenuous, lengthy ruck. Routine exercise was the only thing that prepared the team.
“Originally, months ago there was a big team who wanted to do this, but as the time got closer volunteers withdrew and we thought we wouldn’t even have enough for a single team. ,” said Columbia. “We all knew it was for a good cause of honoring our past military members so that motivated us to participate.”
The real challenges arose after the Altus team started the march.
“We started out at a good pace until about nine miles in,” said Pryor. “At that point, I had some leg pain and that affected the whole team. There were checkpoints every two miles and teams would all have to make it to those points within 20 seconds of each other. So the good pace that we had was greatly reduced to almost a walking speed.”
At that point, the team had two options; try to keep going at a reduced pace or call it quits.
“We kept going and it was at mile 16 that we realized that we probably weren’t going to make the time limit of the course,” said Pryor. “A civilian saw that I was hurting and gave me a walking stick. I put all of my pain into that stick and increased my pace. At that point, I assured everyone that we could do it and after a while, everybody started believing it too.”
Even though the team increased their speed, it didn’t mean that the march wasn’t taking its toll on their bodies.
“We kept on validating each other’s efforts because we had the motivation to run, but our bodies were saying something completely different,” said Pryor. “There were plenty of people who passed us that we ended up catching back up with and we helped motivate them as well. As a team, we had to think about the people who originally did this march and how if they would have stopped they would have died. They marched three times the distance we had to do, so we couldn’t dishonor them by quitting. The march expanded the capacity of our willpower and ability to endure.”
The effort of the team picking up it pace was not in vain. Thanks to their second wind they ended up finishing the race in time.
“The last five miles felt like an eternity,” said Pryor. “Once we saw the finish line we had giant grins on our faces, not from happiness, but from the pride of what we had accomplished and relief that it was over. Once we got our photo taken at the finish line we looked at each other and didn’t know what to do next. We found a log and sat in silence for a good five minutes, recovering from what we mentally and physically endured.
After 11 hours, 52 minutes, of the team’s physical and mental capabilities being tested, they felt accomplished knowing what had just been completed.
“After the march, I can say for the group that we grew as better leaders, better followers, better men and better Airmen,” said Pryor.