More than 80 Army, Navy and Air ROTC cadets strapped up to 50 pounds of gear on their backs at dawn Saturday for a grueling walk up and down Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado.
For many of them, thoughts focused less on the physical demands of what is called a “chaotic march” and more on the 13 members of the United States military who died in the August 26 attack at Kabul airport.
“It really sent shockwaves because these kids were my age,” said Chris O’Dowd, an ROTC Air Force cadet and senior at Point Loma Nazarene University. “It hits home. So running today, yes they are gone but their memory lives on in the family which is the army.
San Diego State University ROTC hosted the event to honor service members, and while the The U.S. Army’s target distance for a ruck walk is typically 12 miles, the cadets traveled 13 miles – one for each life lost at the Kabul airport.
“It’s quite difficult,” said Ivan Loaiza, a senior SDSU officer and ROTC Army cadet who was instrumental in organizing the ruck march. “But that doesn’t compare to what (sacrifice) these 13 made.”
Two suicide bombings exploded in the attack at the airport outside Kabul, the site of a frantic evacuation effort of civilians in Afghanistan. Some 170 Afghans were killed, as well as 11 Marines, one army soldier and one navy soldier. Nine of the soldiers were based at Camp Pendleton.
“I’m going to be in the military as an officer and officers and leaders are expected to stand up and support our brothers and sisters in arms,” said Jonah Andrews, an ROTC cadet at Point Loma Nazarene. Andrews was carrying 25 pounds of gear and covered the 13 miles in 2 hours and 32 minutes.
Claire Rodriguez and Amaryllis Stohl, two Army ROTC cadets attending the University of San Diego, marched together and were the first women to finish.
“I like to challenge myself physically and mentally,” said Rodriguez, who weighed around 35 pounds. “It’s really rewarding.
Saturday marked the first time Strohl, who was carrying around 10 pounds, attempted a ruck walk. “It was all difficult,” said the runner-up. “Around kilometer 10, that’s when your legs start to let go. “
The march began at Glorietta Bay Park, and the cadets, starting on staggered starts, headed south to the end of the beach for 6.5 miles and turned around to finish.
Hayden Butchko, a 19-year-old Air Force ROTC member at SDSU, and three of his fellow cadets jogged about 75 percent of the time and walked the remaining 25 percent, then picked up their pace towards the end of the walk.
“At mile 11 my legs, my quads, my hamstrings, all cramped and I had to keep doing my knees high (lifts) to get to this finish,” Butchko said.
The organizers of the march gladly signed two last-minute additions.
Will Minor of Pittsburgh, on vacation at the Hotel del Coronado with his wife Amy, walked past the SDSU ROTC booth as he finished a 5 mile pre-dawn jog and asked what was going on. Informed of the event, the former infantry officer who also served as a major in the marine reserves, wished to participate in the memory of the Afghan civilians killed, as well as the American soldiers.
“These Marines were doing what they were brought there to do, I have no doubt, and I’m sure they were all fierce and heroic. We love the Marine Corps, ”said Will.
“It was a truly tragic day,” added Amy. “Anything we can do to remember them or shed light on a cause that is beneficial to them, we are happy to participate. ”