By Michael Buhler
Since joining the Army National Guard four years ago, Doug Martin has served in places as far away and as rugged as Djibouti in the horn of Africa. However, a recent experience might rank right up there in terms of ruggedness.
Martin and four of his friends – two of whom served with him in Djibouti – traveled to New Mexico last month to participate in the Bataan Memorial March, a 26.2-mile hike that commemorates the Bataan Death March from World War II.
While the memorial march was nowhere near as brutal as the original World War II march – where thousands of American and Filipino soldiers perished while being forced to march to Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in 1942 – it still was rugged and required months of preparation by Martin and his friends.
“What inspired me to do the march was the difficulty of it,” Martin said. “I knew of one person who had done it and my buddies and I decided that we wanted to try it. I learned of others that had finished and they told me about the difficulties that they and their group had had with it. I thought that it would be a good challenge.”
Martin began preparing for the march last fall by hiking three to six miles at a time with approximately 55 pounds in his ruck, or backpack. He eventually worked his way up to hiking 17 miles with that weight on his back by February, and Martin and his friends also marched as a group when they went to drill.
“Our group philosophy was that if we trained heavy, then the actual event would seem easier,” Martin said. “My buddies and I will remember the 18-mile march we did in sub-zero temperatures in January.
The hoses on our CamelBaks froze only a mile or so into it.”
The memorial took place March 17 in White Sands, N.M. Martin and his friends marched in the National Guard Heavy division, which meant that they had to cross the finish line within 20 seconds of each other.
“There was one checkpoint during the event, and we all crossed it together as well,” Martin said. “By about halfway through the march, we stayed together almost out of necessity. Some members of our group were really struggling and we stuck together to help push each other to the end of it. We had put in the training and we were not about to let someone quit.”
That training and dedication paid off, as Martin and his friends won their division, completing the march in a little more than 8 hours and 41 minutes, and all crossing the finish line within three seconds of each other.
Needless to say, there were some memorable moments during the march.
“One of the rougher ones was when one of the guys needed to take ‘just a five minute rest,’” Martin said. “He laid down and rested on his rucksack and we had to pull him up and push to keep him going. He was hurting pretty good by the end of it.
“Looking back on it, there were moments that I will only be able to share with the other guys. We trained together, we competed together, and we did well. I am proud of every member of our team.”
Joining Martin on the march were Patrick Hill and Bryan Callaway – both of whom deployed to Djibouti – Andrew Mathews and Lt. Anthony Henely. Callaway and Hill have drilled with Martin since they joined, and put Martin’s name on the list to do the event while Henely helped to organize their training schedule and take care of the registration and logistics for the trip.
After enduring the memorial march, Martin gained a new appreciation for the original march, which was one of the darkest chapters of World War II.
“They did not train for what they went through then,” Martin said. “They were facing starvation while we had water checkpoints along the way. A number of them died in their march and the survivors had POW camps to look forward to.
“I had a chance to meet some of the survivors and shake their hands. To me it was a humbling experience, because you don’t really know what to say to them other than thank you. They are an example of courage. To me they set a standard for what it takes to push through adversity.”