A dedicated team representing the Albuquerque District traversed the high desert terrain of White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 27 for the 22nd Annual Bataan Memorial Death March. They joined more than 6,000 others from across the globe for the event.
Lt. Col. Jason Williams, Maj. Richard Collins, Russ Jaramillo, Jerry Nieto and Honorary District Commander Christine Glidden faced daunting winds and rugged conditions throughout the 26.2 mile march, conducted in honor of the heroic service members who defended the Philippine Islands during World War II, sacrificing their freedom, health and, for some, their lives.
“The team endured some of the best elements that New Mexico can provide to include 40 mph headwinds while ascending a 1,500 foot, five mile incline and some of the finest loose gypsum that White Sands Missile Range has to offer,” District Commander, Lt. Col. Williams said. “The greatest honor was meeting several of the Bataan Death March survivors.”
“I was humbled to be standing in the shadows, literally, of the great men who actually endured and survived the Bataan Death March,” said Emergency Operations Chief, Russ Jaramillo. “Their presence, alone, was very powerful and provided motivation that just can’t be described.”
Master Sgt. Bernie Lujan accompanied the team in a supporting role. He was able to get the signatures of several of the survivors on the team member’s march-completion certificates.
“What truly impresses me about the survivors is their enthusiasm and generosity,” said Honorary Commander Christine Glidden. “They stand at the start line willing to greet each marcher with a smile and a handshake. What I have noticed, over the five years that I have participated in this event, is that their numbers are dwindling. The actual Bataan March occurred nearly 70 years ago. Also, nearly 15 percent of the actual Bataan marchers were from New Mexico.”
“After reading about what the original Bataan Death marchers went through, this run/walk was only a small sample of what the original marchers endured,” said Jerry Nieto, engineer and project manager. “This was my first Bataan Memorial, but I have run several marathons and this one ranks up there with being a very well organized event. The course was the toughest I have participated in.”
Nieto said the temperature was in the low 40’s when they started the march and about 72 when they ended. The winds varied with gusts as high as 30 mph, and the course started at 4,400 feet and peaked at about 5,400 feet.
When asked if she would participate in the march again or recommend it to others, Glidden said, “Yes, I would absolutely recommend this event. The sunrise over the Organ Mountains, the flyover, and the bagpipes at the start line are very powerful. Thousands come to show their respect, and their energy is palpable. However, it’s a tough course.”
Jaramillo said several men and women entered the heavy division of the march and carried 35 pounds of non-perishable food goods on their backs the entire distance, while keeping pace with unencumbered marchers.
“They donated the food items to a local food bank at the end of the race,” he said. “Their strength and endurance was amazing.”
Course organizers placed aid stations every two miles which were stocked with water, Gatorade, oranges, bananas and other nourishment. There was a food stand around mile 13 that offered hamburgers and hotdogs.
“I would not run this course in the individual category, as I think it is too difficult without the support of a team to get through it,” Nieto said. “I would run it with a team again, and I would recommend that category to others.”
When asked about how she trained for the march, Glidden said, “As a triathlete, I train all year. However, this is one of my most difficult events. I love to run and peaked with a 5 hour run/hike three weeks before the event and then tapered. The march is a beautiful and brutal experience.”